Ag, food groups make suggestions on GMO labelingAg, food groups make suggestions on GMO labeling
Comment period closes on USDA’s request for comments on how to implement National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law.
August 25, 2017
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepares to develop a regulatory standard for the labeling of genetically modified organism (GMO) food ingredients, agricultural groups provided insight on what the labeling should include.
In response to a series of questions posed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), members of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF) achieved a strong consensus on a broad range of topics critical to the successful implementation of the law. Many also submitted comments to USDA by a variety of farm and food organizations that worked together last year through a broad coalition to help pass the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in July 2016.
The National Corn Growers Assn., part of CFSAF, believes that its responses to questions posed by AMS also fulfill a number of goals originally set out in the law. These recommendations foster consumers' access to information about the food they eat, provide continued access to a nutritious, affordable and sustainable food supply, ensure that farmers and ranchers have access to the technologies that provide numerous environmental and sustainability benefits and adhere to Congress' intention that USDA implement a disclosure standard for marketing purposes that respects the strong scientific consensus on the safety of bioengineered food.
The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), in its comments, said labeling should ensure that consumers receive clear, accurate information about the foods they eat. In its comments filed with AMS, NMPF said it supports a strict, science-based approach in determining how foods made using bioengineering should be regulated. Since bioengineered foods have repeatedly been found to be completely safe by both domestic and international science and research organizations, NMPF said the new standard under review by USDA should focus on providing consumers with accurate information while discouraging misleading marketing tactics or meaningless "absence" claims.
There is “irrefutable scientific evidence that such foods are safe and not materially different from their conventional counterparts,” NMPF president and chief executive officer Jim Mulhern said. However, he said, too many food companies utilize “fear-mongering” to vilify food biotechnology as they seek to profit from the consumer confusion surrounding its use.
In its comments, NMPF emphasized that Congress clearly recognized in the new law that giving farm animals grains developed through biotechnology has no effect on the meat and milk derived from those livestock. Thus, Mulhern noted, “dairy foods are not genetically modified products, and therefore, there is nothing to label.” More than 60 other nations around the world have biotech disclosure requirements, and none have labeling requirements on milk or meats from animals that may have consumed GMO grains.
NMPF said the bioengineered food disclosure standard is really a measure to regulate food marketing, not food safety. Therefore, in determining the level of a substance needed for a product to be considered bioengineered, NMPF suggested that USDA use the same 5% threshold employed by the National Organic Program (NOP) -- another marketing program administered by the agency. Under this approach, the minimum disclosure level for bioengineered ingredients would be 5%, below which mandatory label disclosure would not be required.
“USDA should consider a threshold that supports continued use of bioengineered ingredients or substances and is consistent with other recognized standards,” according to NMPF’s comments.
To avoid consumer confusion and the use of ambiguous labels, NMPF suggested that only two designations be used to disclose bioengineered foods: (1) “contains bioengineered ingredients” or (2) “may contain bioengineered ingredients.” It also insisted that any disclosure be “non-disparaging” to bioengineering technology.
“A food label should not be designed to scare consumers into purchasing certain products, especially when such labels suggest a distinction in which there is no real difference. It’s not fair to try to manipulate consumers through unfounded fears, nor is it fair to the other food companies that don’t engage in such dishonest marketing,” Mulhern said. “We support honest labeling practices in the marketplace and hope USDA will heed our comments to accomplish this goal.”
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