The Non-GMO Project supports clear and transparent labeling of products made with or containing GMOs. AquaAdvantage salmon is listed as a “bioengineered food” under federal BE food labeling law, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS). Because of this, AquAdvantage salmon sold by retailers must include a mandatory “Bioengineered Food” disclosure starting January 1, 2022. However, the GMO labeling scheme is not short on loopholes:
Mandatory disclosures can take the form of the bioengineered foods label, a QR code or a phone number the consumer can dial for more information — a range that presents three very different experiences for a busy shopper in a grocery store.
The voluntary disclosure period of the NBFDS is still in effect until the end of this calendar year, and it's unclear whether fish sold directly to consumers during this period will be labeled. AquaBounty has previously sold genetically modified salmon to unwitting consumers in Canada, where unlabeled GMO fish have been available since 2017.
Without standardized and accessible labeling — not to mention the confusing attempt to rebrand GMOs as "bioengineered foods" — shoppers continue to rely on the Butterfly to exercise their right to choose non-GMO.
Big names in food industry boycott GMO salmon
Consumers won't find AquAdvantage salmon at some of the biggest retail chains in the country, as 80 companies with more than 18,000 locations have pledged to not carry the GMO fish. The list includes grocery chains, restaurants, seafood companies and food service providers including Costco, who find the product incompatible with their sustainability policies. Hy-Vee issued a statement on their reasons for not carrying AquAdvantage: "In order to protect marine resources and ensure future seafood supplies, Hy-Vee strongly believes that genetically engineered seafood has no place in its stores."
Other companies that have publicly committed not to carry the GMO salmon include Kroger, Meijer, Target, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi, Aramark, Compass Group and Sodexo. For a detailed list of companies that are opting out of GMO salmon, visit Friends of the Earth's webpage.
FDA failed in environmental assessment of GMO salmon
A coalition of environmental groups have fought against the approval of genetically modified salmon for years, citing the risks it poses to native salmon populations. Critics of the GMO fish include The Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, The Center for Biological Diversity as well as several employees at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. On November 5, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the FDA violated environmental laws with its hasty approval of GMO salmon. The ruling calls out the FDA's failure to adequately assess the impact escaped GMO salmon could have on wild populations, stating, "The FDA knew that the company’s salmon operations would likely grow, with additional facilities being used for farming. Obviously, as the company’s operations grow, so too does the risk of engineered salmon escaping."
Salmon hold a place of particular importance to the Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest who lived and fished sustainably for centuries before the arrival of colonizers in the 19th century. In the words of Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians and of the Quinault Indian Nation,
"Salmon are at the center of our cultural and spiritual identity, diet, and way of life. It's unconscionable and arrogant to think man can improve upon our Creator's perfection as a justification for corporate ambition and greed."
While the FDA must now complete adequate assessments on the environmental risks of genetically engineered salmon, the ruling doesn't impact the current sales of AquAdvantage.
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.
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:
Use a text-only disclosure including “bioengineered food,” “contains a bioengineered food ingredient,” and “derived from bioengineering.” “Bioengineered food” means that all ingredients in a product are or could be derived from GMOs. “Contains a bioengineered food ingredient” means a product contains at least one GMO ingredient, and other ingredients may or not be made with GMOs. “Derived from bioengineering” is a special voluntary disclosure.
Use one of these symbols instead of a text disclosure:
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.
Use an electronic or digital link. Food manufacturers can put a QR code, digital watermark, or another scannable element on their packaging along with text such as “scan here for more food information.” This type of disclosure must be accompanied by a 24-hour phone number consumers can call to receive the same information. These types of disclosures do not have to say “bioengineered” on the package at all. This option presents several challenges. Scanning a package requires consumers to have a smartphone with them at the grocery store. It also requires them to have an app capable of scanning. In many cases, such scanning apps either cost money or come with confusing advertisements. The USDA’s own study on the feasibility of digital disclosures noted that nearly all participants experienced trouble using their phone to scan a digital link.
Use text messaging. Brands can choose to put a phone number and instructions to send an SMS text message to that number for information. Food manufacturers cannot charge a fee for texting this service, but consumers who pay per text or have limited texting plans may still accrue fees from their cell phone provider. Both text messaging and digital link methods are discriminatory. These methods are particularly unfair to people who face barriers to accessing a smartphone and data plan, such as people from low-income backgrounds, people who are senior citizens, and residents of rural areas. While the telephone call option mitigates this to some extent because it does not require a smartphone, the Non-GMO Project does not believe it is feasible for consumers to make a phone call for each item they consider purchasing, particularly if they are shopping with children. This option also disproportionately impacts Americans living with disabilities that make using a telephone difficult.
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.
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.
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.
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 boldedingredients are derived from GMOs.
All of these soups contain GMOs, but only one will be labeled under the NBFDS. Can you tell which one?
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?
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
“Bioengineered food” applies to single-ingredient GMO foods and foods for which every ingredient is a GMO risk. For example, a single ear of GMO sweet corn or a canned soup with three GMO ingredients and two ingredients that are on the USDA’s List of Bioengineered Foods but may or may not actually be GMO.
“Contains a bioengineered food ingredient” applies to multi-ingredient foods that have some ingredients which are or could be GMOs and some ingredients that are not on the USDA’s List of Bioengineered Foods. For example, a cheese alternative that contains GMO soy and also olive oil (which could not be from a GMO.)
“Derived from bioengineering” is for voluntary labeling in situations where an ingredient (e.g., refined canola oil) is derived from a GMO but does not require a disclosure under the NBFDS. This voluntary text claim may also be used by exempt entities such as very small food manufacturers who wish to make a disclosure.
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.
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.
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:
Exempts most GMO foods that have been processed and refined, which represent the majority of GMO foods. A product can have many different highly refined GMO ingredients and still not be labeled under this law.
Largely exempts GMO ingredients developed through techniques such as CRISPR or RNAi because many will not contain detectable GMO DNA.
Allows an unreasonably high five percent per ingredient threshold for GMO contamination. For context, the European Union uses a 0.9 percent threshold for most foods—so does the Non-GMO Project.
Falls behind the rapid introduction of new GMOs by only updating its list of GMO foods once per year.
Fails to include any technical requirements to ensure that GMO testing is meaningful (e.g., testing method, accreditation of labs, sampling plan requirements.)
Has no penalty at all for failing to comply with the law. This is in stark contrast to the USDA’s National Organic Program, which levies fines of up to $11,000 per violation.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Examples of products the NBFDS applies to: Human food, chewing gum, vitamins and supplements, some wine and beer, and enzymes.
Examples of products the NBFDS does not apply to: Meat, eggs, multi-ingredient food with meat or egg as the first ingredient, prepared food, pet food, animal feed, GMO-derived products without intact DNA, untestable GMOs, distilled spirits, some wine and beer, and non-food items.
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 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:
Exempt GMO foods that have been processed and refined (which is the majority of GMO foods)
Exempt new GMOs, such as those developed through gene editing techniques like CRISPR and RNAi
Allow an unreasonably high 5% threshold for GMO contamination in ingredients
Fail to include any technical requirements to ensure that testing is meaningful (test method, accreditation of labs, sampling plan requirements, etc.)
Fall behind the rapid introduction of new GMOs by only updating its list of GMO foods once per year.
Restrict text claims to the unfamiliar term “Bioengineered,” making it illegal to disclose GMO content using the much more familiar terms “Genetically Engineered” or “Genetically Modified”
Allow a newly invented acronym, “BE,” which consumers have no way to know means GMO, as well as use a label that has a strongly favorable stylistic bias
The draft NBFDS includes the above symbols. Tell the USDA it is NOT acceptable to confuse the American public by using a newly invented acronym and smiling, winking symbols!
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.
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.
On May 18th, Whole Foods Market announced an update to its GMO Labeling Policy. Specifically, in light of the USDA’s recently released draft rule on a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, Whole Foods has paused its September 1, 2018 compliance deadline while remaining firm on its commitment to verification of non-GMO claims.
The scope of the retailer’s original policy, announced in March 2013, was a requirement for suppliers of food products to label products that contain genetically modified (GMO) risk ingredients. In a letter from senior executives last Friday, including WFM president and chief operating officer AC Gallo, the company said: As the USDA finalizes the federal regulation in the coming months and the food industry assesses the impact, we do not want our Policy to pose further challenges for you and your business.
Given that the USDA standard focuses on GMO disclosure of products that contain GMOs, it is logical for Whole Foods to slow its process to ensure alignment between its requirements and federal law. That said, another aspect of the retailer’s GMO transparency commitment is a policy around non-GMO claims for products intentionally produced without GMOs. This includes a requirement for non-GMO claims to be verified by an approved third party like the Non-GMO Project. In the May 18th communication, Whole Foods emphasized its continued commitment to this part of the policy. Although the deadline has been paused, the non-GMO claims policy remains in effect and Whole Foods will not promote or advertise a product as non-GMO unless it has been third-party verified.
Suppliers that have questions about this update should reach out to their primary contact at Whole Foods.
As the regulatory and policy landscape continues to evolve, consumer demand for non-GMO products is stronger than ever. Products that have earned Non-GMO Project Verified status have met the most rigorous standards in the world for GMO avoidance and are well-positioned regardless of the outcome of the final USDA rule. Non-GMO Project verification is still the best way to access market demand for non-GMO, as well as to comply with any likely regulations and retailer policies.
Retailers with questions about non-GMO policy should contact our Outreach team.
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:
How genetic engineering, or “bioengineered” is defined, and as such whether or not it includes new GMOs such as products of CRISPR, RNAi, “synthetic biology,” etc.
Whether or not refined products are exempt from labeling (e.g., refined sugar made from GMO sugar beets)
The threshold for GMO presence (the rule mentions 0.9%, 5% and 10% as options), and how that threshold is assessed
What disclosure methods will be allowed (options in the draft include text claims, QR codes, text messages, and a symbol)
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.