Who could have guessed that 10 years ago, something as mundane as a food label would be the focus of so much attention? Certainly, no one could have predicted it would take center stage in a Super Bowl ad.
But there’s more behind the drive for better, easier-to-read product labels than regulatory zeal. Consumers have been clamoring for increased transparency for years, applying even more pressure on food industry executives.
With the FDA reporting that nearly half of its published recalls result from incorrect or incomplete listings of ingredients and allergen on labels, documentation becomes that much more critical. FDA inspections can drive this point home in the most painful way.
When it comes to ingredients and packaging materials, suppliers must disclose attributes such as material composition, allergens, additives, physical and chemical properties, and microbiological susceptibility. The FDA requirement regarding maintenance records encourages electronic databases for analysis and compliance.
Talk of this requirement drives a lot of the conversation in the industry. But the right software can produce more accurate labels, improve supply chain transparency, and make FDA compliance a lot less stressful.
From GMOs to BEs
Food and beverage industry executives also remain concerned about the transition from the term Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to bioengineered (BE) as defined and outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. Many believe it will cause consumer confusion and uncertainty, given the traditional and widely accepted use of GMOs. This evolution in the language concerns many food companies that have already started producing labeling and marketing with the more commonly used term GMO and those organizations making non-GMO certification claims.
Karin Moore of the Grocery Manufacturers Association has a long list of terms used to describe BE or GMOs in recent years. She questioned whether the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had researched or focused groups with consumers to understand their needs.
According to Moore, the regulation crafted by USDA is far different than expected when the legislation passed in 2016. She figures consumers would probably still be confused with the various terminologies, even with the new BE labels.
We need to socialize a new term, and so far, the government isn’t stepping up to do the necessary educational outreach. The standard’s implementation date has passed, but the mandatory compliance date still looms on the horizon: Jan. 1, 2022.
Some wonder, though, if there’s still a need for non-GMO certifying agencies. Moore described a scenario where a product that requires a BE label could also have a non-GMO Project Verified label due to the threshold differences. Clear as mud, right?
Proposition 65 and related enforcement actions are still on the minds of executives. California’s Prop. 65 requires food manufactures distributing the product within California to provide clear and reasonable warnings when products expose consumers to chemicals identified as causing cancer or reproductive side effects.
Recent concern has surrounded chemical compounds found in roasted coffee beans, listed on the extensive Prop. 65 hazard list. Considerations concerning casualty and route of exposure overturned this case, but other enforcement cases are still working their way through the system. The food industry is deeply – and rightly – concerned surrounding California’s enforcement of the law.
Attorney David Biderman of the Perkins Cole law firm told me about new interpretations and enforcing trends, issues surrounding residual chemicals, and clarification on detecting and labeling metals.
So, will consumers be more receptive to BE rather than GMO? Do Prop. 65 warnings influence how consumers shop?
In my opinion, they all sound scary. In this regulatory environment, ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers need to invest in technology that helps them operationalize supply chain transparency to give consumers the info they want, make informed choices, and comply with laws and regulations to avoid costly litigation.
TraceGains’ suite of software solutions can help food manufacturers:
Use technology to increase supplier transparency.
Quickly acquire data from suppliers.
Standard forms that simplify the collection of information about ingredients that require GMO or Prop. 65 disclosures.
Automate data transfer between supplier and labeling systems.
To learn more about how TraceGains can help your company, request a demo right now.