USDA Publishes Draft Rule on National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard

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:

  • 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.