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Thea Bourianne

By: Thea Bourianne on December 21st, 2018

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Bioengineered is the new GMO: What the USDA's new standards mean for manufacturers

Government  |  industry news

GMO-protester-Alexis-Baden-MayerThe day has finally come since the Vermont GMO (genetically modified organisms) labeling law was overturned back in July 2016. The USDA National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard final rule was pre-published yesterday on federalregister.gov. While many aspects of the Vermont law were carried over into the federal rule, there are some noteworthy new additions, such as the foods that are subject to disclosure and new options for disclosure for manufacturers.

How did the confusion behind GMO start?

The USDA has defined bioengineering as food that “contains genetic material that has been modified through in-vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding, or found in nature.” The foods which are currently approved for use in the U.S. food system and subject to the final rule as sources of bioengineering are:

  1. alfalfa
  2. Arctic™ apple
  3. canola
  4. corn
  5. cotton
  6. BARI Bt Begun eggplant
  7. papaya
  8. pink pineapple
  9. potato
  10. AquAdvantage® salmon
  11. soybean
  12. summer squash
  13. sugar beet

Many likely bioengineered ingredients are in highly-refined forms, where genetic material is no longer detectable. These types of ingredients include refined vegetable oils from soybean, corn and canola, and refined sugars and syrups from beet and corn. While these are likely to be from bioengineered crops, their presence in food alone would not require any disclosure under the new rule.

Bioengineered product data and digital disclosure

Today, there are over 7,700 active products in Label Insight’s database that contain a “Produced with genetic engineering”, “Partially produced with genetic engineering”, or “May be produced with genetic engineering” statement on-package. However, based on the Label Insight ingredient analysis, potentially another 200,000 products likely contain bioengineering. Conversely, over 17,400 products have a non-GMO certification on-package and an additional 19,100-plus products make a form of claim on-package stating that the product is non-GMO.

With the USDA bioengineered rules, there are a few options for complying with the new standards of disclosure: with on-package text or a symbol, or an online page linked to the package's QR code. The use of an online page is particularly interesting because it is a modern, low-cost alternative to reprinting packaging for additional future regulations that may require disclosure. SmartLabel™ is a transparency initiative for packages that is the most well-suited solution for digital disclosure. As an extension of the physical package, SmartLabel™ allows for users to scan a QR code or digital watermark on any packaged good and be immediately directed to a website specifically about that product’s bioengineering containment.

The call to action for manufacturers

The final rule establishes implementation dates of January 1, 2020 and January 1, 2021 for small food manufacturers, with a mandatory compliance date of January 1, 2022 for all manufacturers. As we are about one week away from 2019, now is the time for brands to begin their disclosure to ensure timely compliance.

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About Thea Bourianne

Solutions Consultant, MBA, RD, LDN