Whether it’s organic, gluten-free, or natural, people want to know what’s in the food and dietary supplements they consume.
Genetically modified food and ingredients have been around since the 1990s, but there’s been growing public concern about them. According to the GMO Literacy Project, more than two dozen countries, including the United States, grow genetically modified crops, while 19 of 28 E.U. nations have partially or fully banned GMOs.
GMO Labeling in the United States
In the United States, GMO labeling guidelines originally fell under the substantial equivalence principle. In other words, they were equivalent to other, non-modified crops being grown. Both regulators and businesses considered GMO plants harmless and saw no need to label them.
But because of the increasing prevalence of GMO foods and the growing public mistrust of them, in 2016, Congress passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which charged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with establishing a labeling standard for bioengineered (B.E.) foods.
Regulators set the standard’s original implementation date for Jan. 1, 2020, except for smaller manufacturers, which had until Jan. 1, 2021, for voluntary compliance. Mandatory compliance for everyone kick in on Jan. 1, 2022.
‘Genetically Modified’ Becomes ‘Bioengineered’
Instead of the term “genetically modified,” the labels say “bioengineered” and can be presented in one of four ways per the USDA:
On-package Text, e.g., “Bioengineered Food,” or “Contains a Bioengineered Food Ingredient.”
Electronic or digital disclosure – must include instructions to “Scan here for more food information” or similar language and have a phone number.
Text message disclosure – “Text [command word] to [number] for bioengineered food information.”
But it’s not that straightforward. While the new standard technically went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, the mandatory compliance won’t be in place for another two years. When it’s in place, the USDA will depend on self-reporting for enforcement.
With that said, large food companies can now use the symbol to show consumers ingredients that meet the government’s bioengineered definition.
Confusion Over What Foods Are Exempt
According to Food Processing magazine, many ingredients, such as corn syrup and soybean oil, are produced with frequently bioengineered commodities. Still, they undergo such extensive refinement that it destroys genetic material. As such, these foods are exempt from bioengineered labels.
Other exemptions include:
Manufacturers that generate less than $2.5 million in annual receipts.
National Organic Certified foods.
Most animal products.
Mixed foods if meat, poultry, or egg is the first ingredient or if broth, stock, or water is the first ingredient and the second is meat, poultry, or egg.
Foods that contain less than 5% or less B.E. material per ingredient.
For any food that does fall under the standard’s jurisdiction, manufacturers need adequate documentation to demonstrate if its products are classified as bioengineered. Although the rules appear simple, identifying which products fall under the standard, knowing how to maintain those records properly, and summarizing the various disclosure methods involves attention to detail.
ESHA Research Genesis R&D Director of Regulatory Liz Salvo discusses the NBFDS labeling standard and the best way to collaborate with your supply chain partners to ensure compliance. Watch our on-demand webinar here.