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Labelling for Food

Building on the work of individual states in preparing and implementing laws to regulate the labeling of bioengineered foods, the USA has enacted a federal law providing countrywide protection and consistency for consumers.

Jim Cook, SGS Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager explains in more detail.

On July 1, 2016, the USA’s first labeling law, the Vermont Genetically Engineered (GE) food labeling law Act 120 became effective but as of July 29 when President Obama signed the National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Law 1 it will no longer be enforced. This new law also eliminated the Vermont’s GE Seed labeling law and Alaska’s GE Salmon labeling law because the federal law supersedes all GE State laws.

Since the Vermont Law came into effect some products shipped to the State of Vermont had labels/packages listing their GE status. Some of the companies involved have already stated that these products will continue to carry this information.

The term bioengineered applies to food for human consumption as defined by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, that contains genetic material that has been modified through in-vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and for which the modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.

The National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Law

The new law (section 293B.2.A and B) requires the United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS), to develop regulations that will require the labeling of bioengineered products, within two years. This law requires the labeling of bioengineered products and possibly products with bioengineered ingredients, but the disclosure of this information provides a few options:

  1. Text
  2. Symbol (to be determined)
  3. Electronic or digital link, excluding internet URLs not embedded in the link

The electronic or digital link that this law refers to is the Quick Response (QR) Code. This code can be accessed by a consumer provided they have access to a device with a QR code scanner application (app) and a reliable internet connection, to determine at the point of purchase whether a food was produced using genetic engineering. However, this may also provide less visibility on labels as to whether it contains bioengineered ingredients or is produced with non-bioengineered ingredients, a problem consumer groups wanting bioengineered food labeling have with this law. The label would have to state “scan here for more food information” or similar, but as some companies already provide other information via QR codes this phrase may not be an indicator of bioengineered status. Additionally, small food manufacturers will be allowed to provide a website link to information and a phone number with the phrase “call for more food information”, as well as an additional year to comply. There will also be reasonable disclosure options for small and very small packages. 

To verify the success of option three, within one year of the enactment of this law, the Secretary of Agriculture must carry out a study to identify potential technological challenges that may impact whether consumers would have access to the bioengineering disclosure through electronic or digital methods.

Exemptions

There are exemptions for restaurants and similar retail establishment and for very small businesses. 

Consumer Issues

Other problems for consumer groups include the narrowness of the bioengineering definition and the lack of recall authority written into the law. 

While this law will apply to food regulated by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, it will only apply to meat (including siluriformes such as catfish), poultry and processed egg products, if the predominant ingredient is that regulated by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. However, if the predominant ingredient is broth, stock, water or similar then the secondary ingredient would have to be regulated by the food Drug and Cosmetic act in order for this to apply to the product. On August 19, the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that they will issue guidance 2 that will allow meat (including siluriformes such as catfish), poultry and processed egg products to list non-bioengineered claims in accordance to this law and subsequent regulations. 

Non-Bioengineered Status

While the bioengineered status of a product may be readily known, the non-bioengineered status of a product is in evidence through non-bioengineered certification programs and organic certification labeling, thus providing products to customers that were clearly non-bioengineered or products produced with non-bioengineered ingredients.

Uniformity Across The USA

As this regulation is developed there will be input from both public and industry. However, what is certain is that the USA will have a bioengineered food disclosure standard and consequently a law that applies uniformly throughout the States and its Territories.

SGS No GE Supply Chain Certification Services

SGS is offering the No GE Ingredients Supply Chain Process Verification Standard (U.S. Version), a robust system to verify the process of preparing non-genetically engineered (non-GE) ingredients or (pet) food and beverage products for sale in the USA. The standard may be used by any entity in the supply chain including an ingredient or finished food manufacturer, vendor, or services provider like transport or storage facilities. The standard is based primarily on product traceability with a focus on the control of cross-contact or co-mingling between genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE ingredients at every level of the supply chain and manufacturing process, as well as an effective product market removal plan.

This version of the Standard has been developed for the U.S. market, taking into consideration US federal and state guidance, proposed and passed laws, and subsequent regulations. 
Verification against the standard consists of the independent third party assessment and approval by SGS of the management system of the applicant for the supply chain of non-GE product from the seed through cultivation and harvest, transportation, collection, storage and processing until it reaches the retail market. The product must maintain its original non-GE status, and it must be managed to avoid cross-contact or co-mingling with GE ingredients throughout the supply chain. The implementation of the requirements of the standard and verification against the standard does not substitute for the compliance with any applicable law or regulation in force.

The Standard was originally developed in accordance with EU legislative labeling requirements for GE ingredients (EU Regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003), but the standard has a global application and can be adapted for country-specific markets. 

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Further details and access to the standard is available on SGS No GMO page.

For the complete range of SGS services and support visit SGS Food Safety page.

For further information, please contact: 

Global Food Inspection Technical Manager

t: +1 973-461-1493

References:

1 National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Law

2 USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Announcement