On April 21, 2021, the USDA invited public comments on the future of the food system: From commodities and food crop production to the supply chains that process crops and transport them. This kind of comprehensive look at critical systems is both timely — with lessons learned from the global pandemic — and crucial to our collective welfare and security as we face a changing climate.
Among the Non-GMO Project's guiding principles is the belief that everyone deserves access to good food. Food security, climate change and social justice are inextricably linked, and each element inevitably impacts the others.
We are in a moment unlike any other in human history. The interconnected impacts of our choices and the consequences of "business-as-usual" lie in sharp relief. There is a shared sense of purpose and a renewed appetite for change, drawing us toward systemic reforms that benefit producers, workers and consumers alike.
In support of a truly resilient, regenerative food system that supports jobs and wellbeing today and for generations, the Non-GMO Project advocates for:
Development of regional food hubs for production and processing
Federal support for regional action to address food access and nutrition
Secure incomes for farmers
Living wages and equal rights for farmworkers
Industrial agriculture is currently the dominant practice in the United States. While this system has produced high-yield, low-cost commodity crops, a closer look reveals exorbitant hidden and externalized costs, including environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and increased health risk to millions of consumers.
Because of the systems of centralized power that "lock in" industrial agriculture, change will be most effective when economic and social policies are grounded in ecological principles.
Here, we offer our vision for the future.
A systemic shift toward diversified farming systems
While uniformity is the basis of an industrialized system, diversity is the basis of resilient agriculture.
Agriculture occupies more than 900 million acres of land in the United States, the overwhelming majority of which is used for livestock and the production of a few GM commodity crops.
This homogenous and extractive model squanders natural resources, devastating biodiversity above and below ground. Industrial-style crop production degrades soil and hastens erosion. Monoculture planting creates ideal conditions for destructive pests and pathogens because it works against the natural inclination of the landscape towards diversity.
Biodiversity is critical to successful and sustainable agriculture. Pollinating insects and birds are responsible for a third of the food we eat, while crops rely on healthy soil that is home to billions of invertebrates and microorganisms.
Diversified farming systems that integrate livestock and crop production drastically reduce the need for costly synthetic fertilizers while supporting healthy soil. A growing body of evidence indicates diversified farming systems can provide a diverse and healthy diet with sustained yields over time and strong performance under environmental stressors.
Healthy ecosystems provide a range of services that support human health: water and air purification, nutrient cycling, habitat and food for diverse species and billions of soil microorganisms that are the basis for new medicines. Support for these activities is vital: There is more crucial natural infrastructure in a healthy landscape than we could ever hope to construct by artificial means.
The challenges we face in the coming decades require bold action. We must provide economic incentives for farmers to rebuild healthy ecosystems in their operations. Subsidies for commodity crops — many of which are overproduced — should be redirected as incentives for diversification: promoting crop rotation, nutrient-dense fruits, nuts and vegetables, as well as non-GMO and organic foods. Using more acreage for domestic consumption will revitalize rural economies.
Moving from an extractive model of agriculture toward a diverse and regenerative one will improve soil, water and air quality, restoring them as high-quality resources just as valuable as the crops. By adopting a holistic view of our food system and optimizing production practices, we will build a sustainable and resilient system — aiding our work to heal a broken planet.
Regional food hubs
The Covid-19 pandemic illuminated and exacerbated our food system’s pre-existing flaws. Consolidation in food processing has produced brittle supply chains, unable to adapt to disruptions. More disruptions are coming: The form may vary, but disruption has become a recurring variable rather than an outlying event.
During this time, there were also success stories. Small-scale and organic operations pivoted during the pandemic, meeting the needs of farmers and their local communities. What worked provides a blueprint for a truly resilient and nimble food system.
We must create a strong network of regional, mid-size processing, storage and transportation infrastructure to protect the supply chain, enhance agility and create markets for small and mid-sized producers. Designed strategically, smaller processing plants also offer safer work environments — an important consideration given the increased frequency of emerging zoonotic diseases.
By intentionally building a diverse and regionally-based production and processing system, we bolster the supply chain against future disruptions and create market opportunities for smaller operators.
Everyone deserves access to nutritious food
The elements of a nutritious diet are well-known: regular, moderate meals with an emphasis on plant-based foods. But our agricultural landscape doesn't reflect our goals. It reflects the reality of unbalanced, unsustainable and unhealthy food choices, prioritizing high-yield crops with lower nutrient density.
For example, of more than 900 million acres of agricultural land*:
70% is used for livestock production.
24% is used for just three crops — corn, soy and wheat. Most of the corn is used to feed livestock.
<2% is used for "specialty crops" such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts — the foods that make up the basis of a healthy diet.
If every American voluntarily switched to a healthy, flexitarian diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, there would not be enough produce to feed them.
We eat what we grow, and we are as sick as our landscape.
Food issues emerge in different forms: Food insecurity stems from poor access, often due to poverty or the absence of grocery stores. Nutritional insecurity, on the other hand, when we rely on low-quality foods. A poor-quality diet may meet our caloric needs, but fresh foods and essential nutrients are lacking. Diet-related diseases are the number one cause of mortality in the States.
Food insecurity increased dramatically during the pandemic — particularly in families with young children and in Black and Hispanic households. We've seen government programs and private entities scramble to provide meals to those in need. If we transition acreage to diversified farming systems and strengthen regional food networks, federal and state initiatives such as SNAP, WIC and school meal programs could create markets for locally-produced, nutritious food. By building these intersecting systems across the supply chain, we can move beyond food security and toward true nutritional security, crop diversification and secure markets for nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and nuts — a triple win.
The solutions to food and nutrition insecurity are often regionally specific. These are unique situations determined by population density, social dynamics, geography or myriad other factors. A "one-size-fits-all" approach to food and nutritional security simply doesn’t work.
However, fantastic organizations across the country are already deeply engaged with the communities they serve. We must increase support and funding for regional food hubs that prioritize local and nutritious food, food sovereignty, and food justice, elevating this expertise to benefit the communities that need it the most.
Workers' rights: Seed saving, secure incomes and support for BIPOC farmers
Through land theft, dispossession and exploitative working conditions, the modern food system has been devastating to the people whose labor sustains it. Black farmers saw an erosion of ownership and food sovereignty over the past century. Millions of essential workers who earn their living doing hourly work in the food sector — from on-farm to processing and service jobs — make some of the lowest wages in the country.
Discriminatory lawsfail to provide some of these positions with basic protections and marginalized and BIPOC workers disproportionately bear the impact. The continued denial of rights and protections to an essential sector of the workforce sustains inequalities that have been part of the agricultural system since this country's founding. We must build something better for the workers who feed us.
Owners and operators on agricultural land are also struggling. For 19 of the past 20 years, the average farmer spent more to produce crops than they earned from their operations. Subsidy programs improved the financial outlook of commodity farmers, but these programs prop up an inherently unsustainable system. By redirecting support to promote diverse farming systems, farmers gain income security, produce more nutrient-dense food and regenerate their land.
Ultimately, converting acreage toward diversified operations reduces mechanization and leads to more hands-on jobs. It is essential to create a labor market that does not rely on exploitation. Through legislation and policy development, we must increase support for groundbreaking nonprofits like the Fair Food Program, a highly successful certification and enforcement program that improves conditions for workers.
Our vision for the future of our food system relies on integrated systems and a bold commitment to social and environmental justice. It is a heavy lift. But the challenges we have faced during the past 18 months are proof of just how quickly systems can change in a crisis. Adaptation saves lives and livelihoods. When the initiating event is not a once-in-a-century pandemic but an existential threat to humanity in the form of climate change or the ongoing nutritional deficiencies and food insecurities that stifle our potential, surely we can act just as decisively.
As the Covid pandemic recedes, we welcome the Biden Administration's efforts to "Build Back Better." We respectfully ask for bold action to ensure nutrition security for all and to restore our environment.
Public’s opportunity to demand more testing and stricter regulation ends on May 7
BELLINGHAM, Wash—May 4, 2021. Genetically engineered animals are being developed at an accelerating pace, and could, with few regulations and limited testing, be arriving on dining room tables in the US in 2021. That’s due in part by efforts made by the previous administration to deregulate biotechnologies. On the final day of Sonny Perdue’s tenure as head of the US Department of Agriculture, a proposal was made to move oversight and regulation of GE animals from the FDA to the USDA -- a move that would significantly reduce the safeguards that protect the US public dating back to the Obama administration.
The next day, however, President Biden was inaugurated. And soon afterward, the period of public comment on Perdue’s proposal was extended by the new Secretary of the USDA, Tom Vilsack (who was previously Secretary under President Obama). This extension offers a rare opportunity for the public to influence the new administration to withdraw the dangerous proposal. The window of opportunity closes this Friday, May 7.
The Non-GMO Project joins numerous other non-profit organizations and consumer advocacy groups urging US families to make their opinions known. In a recent article titled “ What businesses and consumers need to know about genetically modified animals entering the marketplace”(New Hope Network, 27 April 2021), the Project says, “It’s quite a big deal to move oversight from the FDA to USDA. Between the two federal agencies, the FDA is more rigorous and stringent in how it regulates drugs, [and] any products intended for human ingestion. It requires more testing around safety issues. So moving this on to the USDA is a clear form of deregulation.” Furthermore, the Project says, “We all have a fundamental right to at least know what is in our food. And if we want to avoid GMOs, we want to know if they are in there or not. Otherwise it’s not up to us. It’s up to the companies and we have no idea what we’re buying and putting on the table in front of kids.”
The risks are real, despite the biotechnology industry’s lobbying effort to deregulate, and its claims that these technologies are safe. IIn 2019, the FDA discovered that a gene-edited cow developed by a Minnesota company had off-target effects, including remnant bacteria as well as antibiotic-resistance genes. This discovery revealed that despite the gene editing precision claims promoted by biotech developers, off-target effects are not only possible but they could be
disastrous. It also speaks to the need for a stringent FDA review process for genetically engineered animals so that the meat and/or milk of these animals doesn't eventually slip into the food supply chain. Other GMOs have slipped into the food system and done grave harm. In 1986, an over-the-counter GMO sleep-aid, untested and unlabelled, led to 80 deaths and thousands sickened.
The USDA has extended the public comment period for its proposed regulation of certain genetically engineered animals. Under its framework, the USDA would oversee these GMO animals and products from them, such as meat, eggs, milk or other derivatives, as they move throughout the supply chain. In our submission, outlined below, the Non-GMO Project explains why any regulation of genetically engineered animals must meet the public’s demands for GMO transparency and deliver the rigorous oversight required to monitor such a complex industry.
As the leading third-party certification for GMO avoidance, the Non-GMO Project has unique and unparalleled expertise regarding the public’s opinions of GMOs and GMO transparency. Additionally, we know firsthand from a technical standpoint what’s required to provide that transparency, including traceability and segregation at all points in the supply chain. This deep knowledge gives us grave concerns about any change to the regulation of GE animals that could reduce rigor. Below we strive to offer clear and informed reasons for our position. Read our full comments here.
1. Regulation must be designed and conducted with the utmost rigor The genetic manipulation of animals is a scientific endeavor that’s extremely complex. Its esoteric techniques introduce vast amounts of variables and implications for people, animals and the environment--many of which are still unknown due to lack of long-term testing and independent research.
The regulatory framework for genetically engineered animals must be sufficiently and thoroughly rigorous. It is imperative that the safety of the animal and the safety of those who consume that animal are ensured through ironclad policy and scrupulous oversight.
No company modifying or engineering the genetic material of animals should be allowed to self-determine whether their products qualify for exemptions from regulation. Moreover, all company efficacy claims should pass regulatory approval, and environmental impacts must be adequately reviewed. Relaxed regulatory oversight only introduces unnecessary and unknown new risks.
2. The regulatory framework must adhere to public demand for GMO transparency The public expects that if genetic engineering has been used in the development of an animal (or in their feed), then the resulting product is a GMO. It is the technique, not the outcome, that makes an organism genetically engineered or modified in the public’s mind. Under this assessment, these genetically engineered animals and products from them, including meat, eggs, milk or other derivatives, introduce GMOs at entry points in the supply chain.
In 2007, the Non-GMO Project Standard was developed to answer the public’s call for GMO transparency -- not just in finished products but through the entire supply chain. Our voluntary consensus Standard has been developed over time by input from the public, including supply chain members, consumers, and scientists. From its inception, these stakeholders have prohibited the use of genetically modified animals in Non-GMO Project Verified products. The diversity present in the supply chain today gives consumers the opportunity to choose what they purchase based on their preferences and values. The 60,000 products verified to the Non-GMO Project Standard showcase the significant consumer demand for GMO transparency and non-GMO options.
Research conducted in 2020 concludes that 1 in 3 shoppers is more likely to buy non-GMO choices1. Of shoppers aware of GMOs:
Because the public recognizes the lack of long-term testing on genetically engineered animals and the potential for off-target effects, consumers continue to demand transparency and deserve the right to choose what they’re eating. These genetically engineered animals and products from them, such as meat, eggs, milk or other derivatives, must be identified and labeled at all steps in the supply chain, from input to finished product.
3. The regulation must align its definition of “genetically engineered animal” with international standards and adopt the terms “Biotechnology” and “Genetically Modified Organism” Under the Non-GMO Project Standard, a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)5is “an organism to which Biotechnology has been applied and derivatives of such an organism; cloned animals are included within this definition.” Biotechnology6 is defined as “the application of:
a. in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles; or b. fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcame natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.”
This paradigm defines a GMO based on the process used to modify the organism and considers any derivative of the organism, regardless of degree of processing, to be genetically modified. In this way, a non-GMO food ingredient is derived from a non-GMO crop source, non-GMO animal source, and so forth.
A GMO or genetically engineered organism should be defined based on the process used to create it, not the traits present in the final product. All forms of biotechnology including gene-editing techniques resulting in what is commonly referred to as changes that could allegedly be found in nature or developed through conventional breeding methods produce a GMO.
Defining a genetically engineered animal based on the process used to create it, not by the modification present in the animal, is consistent with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety7, the Codex Alimentarius8, and the European Union’s GMO Legislation. Failure to harmonize definitions, allowable thresholds for accidental or technically unavoidable GM contamination, and failure to segregate GM animals and their derivatives, could negatively impact international trade and domestic producers by resulting in costly rejected shipments. Alignment with these international agreements, standards, and regulations will facilitate international trade and support domestic exports.
4. Responses to Specific Questions Posed by USDA
Question: Are there types of modifications that should make an animal of an amenable species modified or developed using genetic engineering eligible or ineligible for the expedited safety review process outlined above?
All amenable species modified or developed using genetic engineering should be held to the same level of rigorous evaluation for safety of the animal, the safety of anyone who may eat the animal, claim efficacy, and ongoing environmental impact; no expedited reviews should be granted based on the type of modification.
Question: Should USDA exempt certain types of genetic modifications of amenable species intended for agricultural use from regulation? If so, what types of modifications and why?
USDA should base the regulations on the process used to genetically engineer or modify the animal in accordance with international standards and regulations. For this reason, all amenable species should be subject to the same level of rigorous ongoing safety evaluation and environmental impact evaluation and no genetically engineered or modified animals, regardless of the type of genetic modification, should be exempt from regulation.
Question: What documentation, if any, should accompany amenable species modified or developed using genetic engineering destined for slaughter, certifying that their modifications have been assessed by USDA (APHIS and FSIS)?
Documentation supporting segregation and traceability of genetically engineered or modified amenable species should accompany the animals at every step in the supply chain from birth to slaughter. Documentation supporting segregation, traceability, and labeling should accompany all derivatives of genetically engineered or modified animals, regardless of degree of processing, to facilitate transparency in the marketplace, and to respect and support domestic and international specialty markets that may prohibit or require the labeling of the derivatives of genetically engineered or modified animals.
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.
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 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.
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.
The Non-GMO Project seal has been compliant with FSIS standards since June 2013.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced new compliance guidance on “how companies can make label or labeling claims concerning the fact that bioengineered or genetically modified (GM) ingredients or animal feed were not used in the production of meat, poultry, or egg products.”
For brands seeking the Butterfly seal or those who already have Verified products, this new guidance does not impact Non-GMO Project Verification. The Non-GMO Project seal was first approved by FSIS in 2013, and that approval remains in effect.
The Non-GMO Project Standard's requirements remain the most rigorous in the world, and we will continue working to preserve and build a non-GMO food supply, educate consumers and provide Verified Non-GMO choices.
To date, consumer demand has driven more than 1,000 meat, egg and poultry products to meet the highest standard in the industry and achieve Non-GMO Project Verification. Shoppers’ trust in the Butterfly seal has pushed annual sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products to over $19 billion.
The new compliance guide takes effect immediately, but the USDA will hear comments via the Federal Register for sixty days. We will follow up soon with suggestions for comments.