USDA Issues Final Rule on National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard

Washington, D.C.—The USDA issued its Final Rule on the “National Bioengineered (BE) Food Disclosure Standard” (NBFDS), drawing comment from the Council for Responsible Nutrition and Food Marketing Institute.

The rule sets the implementation date as January 1, 2020—January 1, 2021 for small food manufacturers—with a voluntary compliance date of December 31, 2021, and a mandatory compliance date of January 1, 2022.

The rule does not apply to pet food or animal feed, as they are not intended for human consumption.

The rule defines “bioengineering” as referring to a food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques, for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature. Foods that do not contain detectable modified genetic material are not BE, such that a BE food that has been refined to the point where the modified genetic material is no longer detectable does not require disclosure, although companies can choose to disclose that their product comes from BE material.

The rule states that a food product containing ingredients for which 5% or less of each ingredient by weight contains inadvertent or unavoidable BE material does not need to claim that it is bioengineered. Food products containing any amount of BE material that is not inadvertent or unintentional need to claim that they are bioengineered.

Food served in a restaurant or similar retail food establishment—including food stands, cafeterias, salad bars, and delicatessens, among others—is exempt. The rule clarified that salads, soups, and other ready-to-eat items prepared by grocery stores are exempt.

The rule also prohibited a food derived by an animal—for instance, an egg—from being considered BE solely because the animal consumed BE feed.

The rule also mentioned that food certified under the national organic program is assumed to be free of BE ingredients, and is not required to provide further proof.

Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN, said: “CRN welcomes the release of USDA’s Final Rule implementing the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. The Final Rule advances transparency for consumers about the presence of BE material in both food and dietary supplement products. CRN submitted comments to the Agricultural Marketing Service regarding the NBFDS in July. The Final Rule closely aligns with CRN’s comments and incorporates many of those suggestions.”

Mister added, “CRN is also pleased that the timing of this Final Rule allows companies to implement these requirements at the same time they are finalizing FDA’s mandated changes to the Supplement Facts and Nutrition Facts labeling. The implementation date of January 2020 will allow companies to make all these changes at once, thus reducing compliance costs of two separate mandates. CRN is optimistic that this ruling will create a better and more transparent system for consumers.”

Food Marketing Insight (FMI), too, released a statement applauding the rule. FMI president and CEO Leslie Sarasin said: “FMI commends USDA for introducing a more precise vocabulary into the public discourse regarding biotechnology in food production. We look forward to working with the department to promote consumer understanding of the terminology in this rapidly emerging field.”

Sarasin also said: “FMI has been working closely with USDA and our coalition partners throughout the supply chain to ensure the final rule provides consistency and clarity to the customers shopping in any of our membership’s 33,000 retail food stores. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and food retailers and wholesalers throughout the U.S. to roll out this important new disclosure standard.”