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Wild, non-GMO Atlantic Salmon

GMO Salmon have made headlines before—check out our older blog for more details on the fishiest GMOs.

AquAdvantage Salmon to be Sold in the United States

On March 8, the American FDA lifted its ban on the import of the genetically modified AquAdvantage salmon created by AquaBounty Technologies. The FDA initially approved this GMO for human consumption in 2015, but Congress required the FDA to halt imports of the fish until appropriate GMO labeling guidelines could be established. The FDA announced that this congressional mandate has been fulfilled through the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which requires the labeling of (some) GMOs at the federal level. Now that GMO salmon will be labeled in the US, the FDA has given the go-ahead to import, raise, and sell GMO salmon.

Congress is not the only institution that found fault with the hasty approval of the world’s first genetically modified meat; environmental groups immediately took issue with the FDA’s decision as well. The Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, The Center for Biological Diversity, and multiple employees at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have all called AquaBounty’s product a threat to other salmon.

George Kimbrell at the Center for Food Safety called the FDA “dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground,” and Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth said “It is increasingly clear that there is inadequate regulation: the FDA is trying to shoehorn this new genetically engineered animal into a completely ill-fitting regulatory process.” Their groups and several others sued the FDA over its hurried approval, which may have violated several laws including:

This litigation is ongoing. George Kimbrell and other stakeholders still believe their lawsuit could keep these GMO fish out of American stores if it is successful. “We think a remedy in our case would stop sale of the fish before they’re allowed to be sold,” he says.

Meanwhile, the AquAdvantage salmon has been quietly sold unlabeled in Canada since 2017. As of September 2018, AquaBounty reported that nearly 15 metric tons of the fish had been sold, but would not say to whom. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and other stakeholders are working to address multiple issues related to the labeling and marketing of this fish in Canada.

AquAdvantage Salmon

AquAdvantage salmon is a transgenic GMO that contains DNA from three different types of fish: Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon, and the eel-like ocean pout. This results in a salmon that grows nearly twice as fast as other farmed Atlantic salmon while consuming about 25 percent less feed. Researchers do not yet know if these fish will have other, off-target effects as a result of their genetic manipulation.

Learn more

These living GMOs are bred to be sterile and always female in hopes of preventing them from mixing with wild populations. Unfortunately, it only takes one mishap for GMO contamination to occur. Once GMOs are released into the environment, there is no recalling them into the lab. Contamination events spanning decades and continents prove that no containment plan is foolproof. Some people are particularly concerned that AquaBounty is not being careful enough in Panama, where authorities ruled that AquaBounty had “repeatedly violated” certain environmental regulations.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard

The FDA announced that since the USDA already set rules for GMO labeling by establishing the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, the congressional labeling requirement has been met. Many of the most prevalent GMOs will remain unlabeled under this fatally-flawed law because it contains so many omissions and loopholes. Despite these many shortcomings, AquAdvantage salmon and most products containing AquAdvantage salmon will require a “bioengineered food” disclosure under this law. This specific salmon is explicitly included in the USDA’s List of Bioengineered Foods.

Take the quiz: Which GMOs will be labeled and which will be hidden under the NBFDS?

The company has been farming conventional salmon in its Indiana facility while waiting for the FDA to lift the import ban. In the interim, it has been raising GMO fish in Panama, then exporting them to Canada for sale.

AquaBounty will now be permitted to import eggs to the Indiana-based farming facility it has held since June 2017. The company hopes to have its GMO salmon on the market as soon as 2020. Since compliance with the NBFDS does not become mandatory until 2022, it is unclear whether AquaBounty would choose to label its salmon in the interim. This means it is possible, but not certain, that GMO salmon could be sold in the US without a GMO disclosure for two years.


Consumers Reject GMO Meat

The hasty government approval of GMO salmon demonstrates once again that the FDA puts agribusiness first and consumers second. Despite this failure to create meaningful regulations, consumers and consumer groups are fighting back. Consumers don’t want GMO salmon--polls show only 35 percent of Americans would even try it. Nearly two million people sent the FDA comments asking them not to approve GMO salmon back in 2013, but the FDA did not listen. Luckily, many grocery retailers are listening. More than 80 retailers with a total of over 16,000 locations nationwide have promised not to sell genetically modified seafood.

 

Read part one of this blog.
Jump to quiz
Jump to FAQs
Read the NBFDS

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard requires some food producers to put labels on some products that contain GMOs. Unfortunately, there are two glaring problems with this law that mean consumers will still not be able to tell what is in the food they are eating. Let’s take a closer look at disclosure options and exemptions under the NBFDS.

Disclosures

As a reminder, GMO foods won’t say they contain GMOs, they will say they are “bioengineered food.” However, many products will not even say that. A text disclosure is just one of four main options available. Food manufacturers have a few choices when it comes to disclosing GMO content:

Bioengineered disclosure labels

These symbols (and other types of disclaimers) will begin to appear on packages in 2020 to indicate the presence of GMOs in food.

These symbols say “bioengineered” but they do not explain what that means or how to find more information about it.

Electronic methods of disclosure are discriminatory, inconvenient, and confusing. If consumers can’t intuitively understand what the disclosure means, then nothing is really being disclosed.

Exemptions

While the disclosure methods are confusing and burdensome, the exemptions allowed under the NBFDS are even more perplexing. With all of these loopholes, just a fraction of products that contain GMOs will be labeled at all. Animal feed, pet food, and personal care products are not covered at all. Only products that contain detectable GMO DNA will be labeled—this is a huge problem because so many processed foods contain untestable inputs such as beet sugar and canola oil.

Learn more about testing for GMOs

Meat and eggs are exempt, as are products in which meat or egg is the first ingredient. It’s important to understand that animal feed is not only unlabeled as a product, but it is out of scope for product evaluation as well. Conversely, when the Non-GMO Project verifies dairy, eggs, or meat it means the animal those products came from ate a non-GMO diet. If you choose to eat dairy, eggs, meat, or other animal products, choosing items that are Non-GMO Project Verified is the single biggest way you can help protect a non-GMO future.

Learn more about the importance of non-GMO animal feed

All of these exemptions make it impossible it know whether a product lacks a disclosure because it is non-GMO or because there is an applicable loophole. There are so many exemptions—and exceptions within exemptions—that the average person can’t possibly keep track of what is covered.


Take the Quiz

To illustrate this point, let’s look at a few examples of products. In each example, assume that all the bolded ingredients are derived from GMOs.

All of these soups contain GMOs, but only one will be labeled under the NBFDS. Can you tell which one?

  1. Soup ingredients: chicken stock, corn, chicken, celery, carrots,
  2. Soup ingredients: chicken stock, chicken, corn, celery, carrots,
  3. Soup ingredients: vegetable broth (water, carrots, celery, paprika), chicken, corn, celery, carrots

Answer:  

In the list above, only number one would be subject to disclosure. Multi-ingredient foods with meat as the first ingredient are exempt (except for seafood, rabbit, and venison) even when the animal ate GMO feed. Water, stock, and broth don’t count. This means soup number two does not get a label because it has chicken as the second ingredient after stock, even though the very next ingredient is GMO corn. Soup number three does not get a label for the same reason even though it lists the non-exempt ingredients in the broth separately. Soup number one does get a label because it has corn as the second ingredient and chicken as the third.

Let’s try another. All three of these frozen, breaded fish nuggets contain GMOs. Which one would get a BE label?

  1. Fish product ingredients: minced catfish, water, corn meal, corn flour, salt, baking powder, paprika, canola oil, flavoring
  2. Fish product ingredients: minced pollock, wheat flour, water, canola oil, egg, cornstarch, onion powder, flavoring
  3. Fish product ingredients: minced chicken, minced pollock, minced haddock, minced cod, enriched flour, canola oil, water, yellow corn flour, sugar, yeast, natural flavor

Answer:
In the list above, only number two would be subject to disclosure. Products with seafood as the first ingredient are subject to labeling—except catfish, so fish product number one is exempt. Fish product number three contains three types of seafood, which is subject to labeling, but it contains more chicken filler than it does pollock, so it is exempt too. Only the all-pollock fish nugget would be labeled—but only if the GMO DNA in the cornstarch or flavoring can be detected after processing.

One more quiz. Again, all of these chocolate candies contain GMOs. Can you tell which one would be labeled with a BE disclosure?

  1. Chocolate bar ingredients: sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin, canola oil, vanillin, artificial flavor
  2. Chocolate bar ingredients: sugar, cacao, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, emulsifier, artificial flavor
  3. Chocolate bar ingredients: sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, soy lecithin, natural vanilla

Answer:

It’s impossible to tell for certain, but probably none of these. All three chocolates contain refined GMO ingredients. The sugar and canola oil can’t be tested for GMOs; there is not enough intact DNA. The soy lecithin could possibly contain detectable GMO DNA in some circumstances, but not in others. The NBFDS only requires labeling if the GMO DNA is detectable in the finished product. Unfortunately, this policy just keeps consumers guessing.

The Non-GMO Project thinks you deserve better.

These examples make it painfully clear that this law does not deliver the transparency American citizens have been demanding for decades. Most people do not walk around with an encyclopedic knowledge of GMO risks and regulatory details. They certainly cannot tell if an ingredient has detectable GMO DNA just by looking at an ingredient panel—no one can. How could anyone ever know if a product lacks a BE disclosure because it is truly non-GMO or because it falls into one of the many exempt categories in this law?

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard doesn’t label all types of GMOs, but the Non-GMO Project still does because conscientious consumers like you demand it. We will continue to listen to shoppers and provide the trustworthy labeling that the USDA has failed to offer. Unlike the NBFDS, the Non-GMO Project Standard includes all products of biotechnology, not just the convenient ones. It follows ingredients back to their source rather than exempting processed ingredients, because the Non-GMO Project knows you can’t start with a GMO ingredient and process it into something that somehow isn’t the product of genetic engineering.

Non-GMO Project Verified will remain the most trustworthy and accessible way for consumers to avoid GMOs. The Non-GMO Project will continue to support consumers by offering GMO transparency under North America’s most rigorous standard for GMO avoidance.


Frequently Asked Questions

Check out these FAQs to learn more about the National Bioengineered Food Standard and what it means for you. Have other questions? Post them in the comments or contact info@nongmoproject.org.

Why does the USDA use the term “bioengineered” or “BE”?

The Non-GMO Project believes the USDA chose “bioengineered” rather than the widely-understood “GMO” in order to distance labeled products from the overwhelming consumer rejection of GMO foods. While nearly all consumer are aware of “GMOs,” bioengineered is a new term that does not even appear in the USDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology Glossary.

When will I start seeing bioengineered disclosures on food?

Some products will start including a BE symbol or disclosure in 2020. Food producers are not required to comply with this law or label their products until 2022.

If a product doesn’t have a USDA BE seal, does that mean it is non-GMO?

No. The USDA’s labeling law includes many exemptions, meaning many foods derived from GMOs will not be labeled. For example, nearly all heavily-refined ingredients such as beet sugar and canola oil will be exempt. Many products that contain meat or eggs will be exempt. Foods produced by certain small manufacturers will be exempt. Food that comes from animals on a GMO diet will not be labeled. Pet food, animal feed, alcohol, household goods, and personal care items are completely exempt. Never assume that the absence of a BE disclosure means the absence of GMOs.

Will the NBFDS label animal products that come from animals who were fed GMO animal feed?

No, animal feed will not be evaluated under the NBFDS. GMO animal feed sold as a finished product will not be subject to the NBFDS either.

If a product contains meat, will it have to disclose GMOs?

Meats and eggs are exempt. Some multi-ingredient foods that contain meat will require a disclosure but some will be exempt. If a food has multiple ingredients and meat (but not seafood) or egg is the first ingredient, it is exempt even if other ingredients are GMOs. If meat or egg is the second ingredient and the first ingredient is not water or stock, the product would be subject to the NBFDS.

There are many exemptions for meat and egg products; do not assume that the absence of a BE disclosure means the absence of GMOs.

Will foods made with new GMO techniques such as CRISPR or TALEN require a BE label?

Many foods made with new genetic engineering techniques will not require a disclosure, but some will. The NBFDS looks at detectable modified DNA in the final food product and is not interested in the methods that went into the genetic engineering. It is not yet possible to test for GMO content in many products of new genetic engineering techniques. If modified DNA cannot be detected in a product, it will not require disclosure.

Will foods with processed or refined ingredients have a BE disclosure?

The NBDFS evaluates food based on whether it has detectable modified DNA. Many processed ingredients (e.g., canola oil, beet sugar) do not typically contain detectable modified DNA because the processing methods damaged or removed the DNA. Such products and ingredients will not be labeled under the NBFDS.

What is the difference between “bioengineered food,” “contains a bioengineered food ingredient,” and “derived from bioengineering?”

All three possible text disclosures mean a food contains at least one GMO ingredient; the difference is how many ingredients might be GMOs and whether those ingredients or their manufacturer are covered under the NBFDS.

Why are eggplant, apple, salmon, and pineapple not on the Non-GMO Project High-Risk list?

The Non-GMO Project does not currently consider these inputs to be high risk because they are not widely commercially available. The Non-GMO Project feels it would be burdensome and unreasonable to require food producers to pay to test their eggplant, for example, because GMO eggplant is so uncommon in the United States. While the Non-GMO Project uses a risk assessment matrix to determine when an input should be considered “high risk,” the USDA simply lists foods that may be bioengineered.

How do I tell if personal care items have GMOs in them?

The NBFDS is limited to some food and supplement products; it does not label GMOs in personal care products, clothing, cleaning products, or packaging.

Does the NBFDS label GMOs in pet food?

No. Most commercial pet foods contain GMOs and animal products from animals fed a GMO diet. To keep GMOs out of your pet’s food bowl, you’ll need to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified mark.

What are the rules for QR codes, text message disclosures, and phone line disclosures?

Brands can choose to use electronic methods to disclose GMOs instead of a symbol or plain text disclosure. If they choose a telephone number, it must be available 24/7. The manufacturer cannot charge you for text messages, but your cell carrier still can. If the manufacturer chooses a web page, the disclosure must be on the first page and it cannot contain advertisements or promotional materials.

What if I don’t have a cell phone, a data plan, or access to wifi to use electronic disclosures?

Unfortunately, some people who lack access to technology are unfairly discriminated against as part of this law. The best way to be sure you are choosing non-GMO products is still to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified mark.

Can food producers use cookies or other tools to collect information about me when I use their digital or electronic links?

The NBFDS says that electronic links may not ”collect, analyze, or sell any personally identifiable information about consumers or the devices of consumers.” However, it also says that if such information must be collected, it “must be deleted immediately and not used for any other purpose.”

choosing non-GMO Project Verified products in the grocery store

After a lengthy delay, the USDA published the final National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) in the Federal Register on December 21. This law, which you may have heard called the DARK Act, is the start of mandatory GMO labeling in the United States. It means that some—but not all—products containing GMOs will have to be labeled by 2022.

While the Non-GMO Project supports mandatory labeling, we are disappointed by the content of the final rule. It does not do enough to protect consumers and it does not offer American families the transparency they have been calling for.

Read the full law on the Federal Register

As you know, consumers have been demanding meaningful GMO labeling for more than 20 years. Fifty-four GMO labeling bills landed on ballots in 26 states, and consumers in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont successfully passed statewide labeling legislation. Unfortunately, the NBFDS took those hard-earned wins away from consumers by rolling back existing state laws and preventing any future state-level GMO labeling.

The Non-GMO Project was founded on the simple idea that everyone has the right to know what is in their food, and we are committed to helping make that right a reality for every shopper. The Project has always supported mandatory labeling legislation and even spearheaded efforts to help the USDA make the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard meaningful and intuitive for all consumers.

Consumers like you have been asking for transparency, campaigning for labeling, and voting for non-GMO options when you shop. Your hard work created the Non-GMO Project and helped bring more than 57,000 Verified non-GMO choices to consumers across North America. The USDA’s final rule is not good enough and we think you deserve better—so let’s continue to stand together in support of meaningful GMO labeling and Verified non-GMO choices.

What is in this new GMO labeling law?

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law requires some products that contain GMOs to bear a GMO disclosure. Some food products will start to include a disclosure in 2020, but food producers are not required to be in full compliance until 2022.

Unfortunately, this law:

Some GMO foods will be labeled “bioengineered” or “BE”

It is important to understand that GMO foods won’t say they contain GMOs, they will say they are “bioengineered.” While 97 percent of consumers are familiar with the term GMO, most people do not understand what bioengineered food means. Typically used only as a medical term, “bioengineered” is not even included in the USDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology Glossary, highlighting the fact that it was invented for this purpose. Using intentionally confusing terminology misleads consumers and keeps them in the dark.

Bioengineered disclosure labels

These symbols (and other types of disclosures) will begin to appear on packages in 2020 to indicate the presence of GMOs in food.


It is clear that using “bioengineered” instead of “GMO” or “genetically engineered” is an attempt to distance labeled products from the overwhelming consumer rejection of GMO foods. This is unacceptable and the Non-GMO Project feels it shows a great disregard for the American public. Unfortunately, the labeling confusion does not end there. The NBFDS does not even require products that need a BE disclosure to have a plain-text label. Consumers will need to scan QR codes, visit websites, send text messages, or make telephone calls while shopping in order to find out if some of their food contains GMOs.

The good news in the face of this disappointing law is that the Non-GMO Project’s mission is unchanged. We are still committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. A product without a bioengineered disclosure could still contain GMOs, but the Non-GMO Project Verified mark always means a product is compliant with North America’s most trusted and most rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance. You have the right to know what is in your food—without needing to memorize regulatory loopholes or jump through hoops in the grocery store.

Do you have questions about the NBFDS? Post them in the comments below or contact info@nongmoproject.org.

Read part two of this blog

The USDA issued its final rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) today, to be published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2018. The Non-GMO Project is disappointed by the content of the final rule, which jeopardizes GMO transparency for Americans. The NBFDS demonstrates that only the Non-GMO Project provides the transparent labeling consumers have been demanding for more than 20 years.

In its current form, categorical exemptions prevent this law from delivering the meaningful protections Americans deserve. Highly processed ingredients, many products of new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR and TALEN, and many meat and dairy products will not require disclosure. Animal feed is not covered by this law; meat, eggs, and dairy from animals fed a GMO diet will not require a disclosure. Overall, many products containing GMOs will not be labeled, meaning that the absence of a bioengineered (BE) disclosure does not mean a product is non-GMO. In light of these developments, the Non-GMO Project will continue to listen to consumers and provide North America’s most rigorous label for GMO avoidance.

Despite these shortcomings, the law will permit voluntary non-GMO claims such as Non-GMO Project Verified. The final law explicitly states that Non-GMO Project participants are not expected to incur costs in association with this law according to a previously conducted regulatory impact analysis. This further suggests that Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program materials fulfill the necessary requirements to avoid disclosure.

The Non-GMO Project was founded on the simple idea that everyone has the right to know what is in their food and we are committed to helping every shopper make that right a reality. Based on the final rule released today, Non-GMO Project Verified will remain the most trustworthy and accessible way for consumers to avoid GMOs. The USDA’s final rule is not good enough and we believe consumers deserve better—the Non-GMO Project is committed to providing transparent labeling and meaningful non-GMO choices to all Americans.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS)?

The NBFDS is a federal rule published on December 21, 2018 that requires mandatory disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients in certain foods. The rule uses a very narrow definition of “bioengineered,” which exempts many ingredients that consumers widely consider to be GMOs. For example, under the rule, a cooking oil made from GMO canola is not considered “bioengineered,” and is therefore exempt from labeling, simply because the finished product isn’t testable.

How is the NBFDS perceived by the public?

Consumer groups have largely rejected the rule as insufficiently meaningful and transparent. Commonly cited concerns include the narrow definition of bioengineered food, the allowance of inaccessible disclosure methods (such as QR codes), and the use of opaque terminology. 

Are Non-GMO Project Verified Products automatically exempt from the NBFDS?
While Non-GMO Project Verified products are not automatically exempt, the Non-GMO Project is confident that Verified products will meet and exceed the requirements for compliance with the NBFDS. In its commentary on the final rule, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) states that “USDA has tried to minimize the impact the NBFDS will have on...voluntary absence claims.”

Will the NBFDS generate expenses for my Non-GMO Project Verified products?

The final rule explicitly states that Non-GMO Project participants are not expected to incur costs in association with this law according to a previously conducted regulatory impact analysis. Thus, it appears that the rule has been drafted with the intention that documentation related to Non-GMO Project Product Verification will fulfill the necessary requirements to avoid disclosure. 

How do I tell if the NBFDS applies to my products?

Applicability rules are very complicated, especially for products that contain meat or eggs. Please review sections B and C under Applicability for full details. 

Will products of new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR or TALEN require a disclosure?

The NBFDS limits its definition of bioengineering to recombinant techniques that result in detectable modified material in the finished food. It appears unlikely that products of techniques like gene editing would be subject to disclosure under NBFDS, but the final rule is not explicitly clear.

Is there an exemption for my small food manufacturing business?

Very small food manufacturers, defined as those with annual receipts of less than $2.5 million, are exempt from the NBFDS. Such manufacturers may choose to make a voluntary disclosure if desired.

What is the penalty for failing to comply with the NBFDS?

The NBFDS does not provide for civil penalties such as fines. If a problem is discovered during an audit, regulated entities have the opportunity to have a hearing. The AMS can publish the results of an audit after such a hearing.

Will the Non-GMO Project help my brand demonstrate compliance to the AMS?

Individual brands will be responsible for submitting documentation to AMS if they are audited. It appears that the law has been drafted with the intention that documentation related to Non-GMO Project Product Verification materials will fulfill the necessary requirements to avoid disclosure. 

If one of my products has a BE disclosure and another is Non-GMO Project Verified, can I advertise them together? 

This is currently permitted as long as the Non-GMO Project Verified mark is only used in association with Verified products and/or the advertisement contains a disclaimer as to which product(s) are Non-GMO Project Verified. As a reminder, all marketing materials utilizing our trademarks must be sent to our marketing department for review and approval. If the advertisement needs to be altered in any way, our marketing team will let you know.

Can I write “Non-BE” or “Not bioengineered” on my Non-GMO Project Verified products?

No, this type of language is not permitted on Non-GMO Project Verified products or related marketing materials. The NBFDS states “the focus of the NBFDS is on BE claims and not on absence claims.” Non-GMO Project participants do not need to make claims using the AMS' confusing language because their Verified products already communicate a higher-level commitment to GMO transparency. The Non-GMO Project Verified mark means a product is compliant with North America’s most trusted and rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance—a significantly more meaningful designation than “non-BE” or similar.

When do my products need to be in compliance with the NBFDS?
Implementation begins January 1, 2020; some companies will choose to start using a BE disclosure at this time. Mandatory compliance takes effect on January 1, 2022. All applicable food products must bear a bioengineered disclosure by this date. 

Why should I remain in the Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program if the United States government is labeling bioengineered ingredients?

Non-GMO Project Verified remains the most technically rigorous and the most trusted label for GMO avoidance. The USDA’s law does not cover most refined ingredients, products of new genetic engineering techniques, meat products, pet food, animal feed, or personal care items. The consumers who care about true ingredient transparency will continue to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. 

According to Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumer Reports, “The overwhelming majority of consumers want genetically engineered food to be clearly labeled, but this rule fails to give consumers the information they deserve. Consumers can, however, rely on labels such as ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ which will tell them if a food does not contain GMO ingredients.” 

We are grateful for your commitment to providing consumers with the highest quality third-party verification for non-GMO food and products. Together, we will keep working to provide consumers with a meaningful way to know what is in their food.

The Non-GMO Project applauds the European Court of Justice’s July 25, 2018 ruling on new genetic engineering techniques, which clarifies that products of techniques such as CRISPR-cas9, RNAi, and gene drives are to be considered GMOs under European law. This is a great victory for the 508 million European consumers who will benefit from the regulation and labeling of products made with genetic engineering. The decision aligns with the Non-GMO Project’s position, as products of these new techniques are already considered to be GMOs under the Non-GMO Project Standard and are not allowed in Non-GMO Project Verified products.

The ruling will ensure that products of new genetic engineering techniques will be subject to the European GMO Directive safety regulations that govern other GMOs in the EU. This means products of these new technologies are to undergo consumer safety evaluations and will be subject to labeling in accordance with existing labeling laws.

The Court's declaration has broader implications outside of the EU, as biotech and seed industry lobby groups have been fighting against any regulations globally for products of new genetic engineering techniques. These companies have intentionally distanced themselves from the regulatory hurdles and the consumer and manufacturer rejection of GMOs by claiming that products of these new genetic engineering techniques are not actually GMOs. The European Court of Justice’s ruling clarified that because the potential risks associated with products of new techniques closely resemble the risks associated with transgenic GMOs, they should be regulated in the same way.

This ruling brings the European Union’s definition of genetic engineering into alignment with the Codex Alimentarius definition, which is used by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Non-GMO Project Standard.

In the Non-GMO Project’s recent comments to the USDA on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, the organization urged the USDA to adopt the Codex definition and ensure that new GMOs will be subject to the same requirements as other genetically modified organisms. This request reflects the organization's fundamental belief that all shoppers deserve to know if their food contains genetically engineered ingredients and that any GMO labeling must be inclusive of all GMOs, including products of new genetic engineering techniques.

On May 3rd, the USDA released its long-awaited draft of a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, pursuant to a law passed in July 2016. While there are many aspects of the draft that warrant comment (check out our complete list here), one thing that is particularly outrageous is the terminology proposed. Under the proposed rule, it would become illegal to make a GMO disclosure using anything other than these two terms: bioengineered and "BE." In order to help establish just how misleading and confusing this would be, the Non-GMO Project compiled a brief report on public understanding and usage of terms related to GMOs. Click here to download the report.

 

The chart above is excerpted from the Non-GMO Project's report on public understanding and usage of terms related to GMOs; it includes terms used in average monthly Google searches from July 2017 through June 2018 and clearly shows that the public does not use the terms proposed in the USDA's draft standard for GMO disclosure.

Background

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) is the culmination of two decades of Americans overwhelmingly demanding mandatory labeling of GMO foods. The draft version published by the USDA on May 3 leaves many questions unanswered and indicates plenty of cause for alarm. The USDA is currently accepting comments through July 3. In order to support you in making your voice heard, the Non-GMO Project has created a short webinar explaining key points for comments, and has drafted a customizable template for comment submission to the USDA.

Watch the 35-minute webinar with Non-GMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate which provides background on the proposed USDA standard, implications of the draft rule, and context for the proposed comments:



Here’s what’s at risk if we don’t comment; the final rule might:

Take Action Now

Step 1. Download a template letter suggesting comments to the USDA

Option A. Paste the template letter onto your letterhead. Add a short statement about your company and a signature. If you want to change or add to the comments, though, please do so!

Option B (preferred). Letters that integrate the direct impacts of the proposed rule on your business are much more effective. After pasting the template content on your letterhead, please add personal statements to each comment providing context for how this element of the proposed USDA standard impacts your business or customers.

Resources for commenting:

Step. 2 Upload your letter

Your comments must be submitted by 11:59 EST on July 3, 2018 via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. There is a character limit on comments written or pasted directly into the comment text field; rather than pasting your comments, we suggest directing the USDA to your attached letter, with a simple statement such as “Please see attached letter.” You are also encouraged to submit supplemental evidence supporting your comments.

The Rigor of the Non-GMO Project is More Important than Ever

We appreciate your attention to this critical matter. While the Non-GMO Project will continue to lead efforts to ensure that this law is as meaningful as possible, it’s clear based on what was released that Non-GMO Project Verified will remain the most trustworthy and accessible way for consumers to avoid GMOs.

Please do not hesitate to contact the Non-GMO Project if you have any questions. Thank you!

Non-GMO Project Verified is the most trustworthy and accessible way for consumers to avoid GMOs.

May 3, 2018

The USDA today published a draft rule on federal standards for labeling of bioengineered food, as directed by a law passed by Congress in 2016. A 60-day public comment period on the rule begins tomorrow and ends on July 3, 2018.

The Non-GMO Project will be coordinating with all of our stakeholders to support engagement in the comment process. Next steps include an informational webinar for brands and retailers, calls to action for the public, and guidance on formal comments to USDA.

The proposed regulations released today contain numerous questions and repeated invitation for public comment. On many key issues it remains unclear where the regulations will land, making engagement with the public comment period particularly important. Some of the unanswered questions, which significantly impact the ultimate meaningfulness of the rule, relate to topics such as:

Notably, the draft regulation includes three options for a disclosure symbol, all of which use the newly invented acronym “BE” (for “Bioengineered”). As a new term, “BE” is not recognized by consumers and would not sufficiently disclose GMO status. As such, it will be a focus of the Non-GMO Project’s public comment to USDA.

As expected, many products are categorically exempt from the rule, including meat, poultry and egg products, and products containing those items as primary ingredients.

The rule makes clear that its scope does not include non-GMO claims, and as such it will have no bearing on the right of brands to use the Non-GMO Project Verified label.

While the Non-GMO Project will help lead efforts to ensure that this law is as meaningful as possible, it’s clear based on what was released today that Non-GMO Project Verified will remain the most trustworthy and accessible way for consumers to avoid GMOs.

The Dark Act, What's Next?The House passed H.R. 1599 but the fight isn’t over yet.

On July 23, 2015 the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1599 (275-150). This sweeping bill would prohibit any current or future state law requiring GMO labeling, while at the same time dramatically undercutting federal, state and local government oversight and regulation of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

The revised bill also includes a mandate for the USDA to create its own non-GMO certification program. While it won’t remove the Non-GMO Project Verified seal from the marketplace, the bill as written would create a competing label that would confuse shoppers and undermine the tremendous progress we’ve made on setting a high standard for GMO avoidance.

This is a serious concern for the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit that has been working since 2007 to successfully establish a consistent and rigorous standard for non-GMO claims. More than 2,000 brands now have the iconic Butterfly on their products, representing over $12 billion in annual sales.

H.R. 1599 is a dangerous bill that undermines democracy and represents the interests of the biotechnology industry over the interests of the American people. By preempting all state and local oversight of GMOs, the bill would negate more than 130 existing statutes, regulations, and ordinances in 43 states at the state and municipal level.

What’s Next

This is the most important fight there will ever be on the GMO issue. The Non-GMO Project will be active in Washington, D.C. in the coming months doing everything in our power to ensure that this bill does not make it through the Senate.

Concerned citizens across the country are asking how they can help fight this bill and how it will impact the Non-GMO Project. Watch our Facebook page for regular updates and sign up for The Butterfly newsletter for ways you can help.

As this moves to the Senate, there will be critical opportunities for non-GMO businesses to make their voices heard. Our brand and retailer partners can expect regular updates and calls to action from the Project over the coming months. We also welcome your questions and input as we work together to protect America’s right to know.

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