On January 1, 2022, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law went into effect, requiring food manufacturers, importers, and retailers in the U.S. to comply with a new national labeling standard for food that has been bioengineered or that contains bioengineered ingredients. The rule also requires these entities to use the term “bioengineered” in place of the terms such as “genetically engineered” or “GMO.”
Bioengineered foods are defined as those foods that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through in vitro rDNA techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature. Therefore, any food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro rDNA techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature, is required to disclose that information on its label.
There are four options for labeling bioengineered foods:
- Use of the word “bioengineered” on product packaging;
- Use of a USDA-approved symbol that says “bioengineered” or “derived from bioengineering”;
- Use of a QR code that consumers can scan for more information; or
- Use of a phone number that consumers can text to learn more about the bioengineered product.
Disclosure information is required on the panel adjacent to the manufacturer/distributor information or the principal display panel; however, if there’s not enough space on either of these panels, the disclosure may be placed on any other panel likely to be seen by a consumer under ordinary shopping conditions. Additionally, disclosure on small packages may be made using shortened versions of the required statements, while disclosure on very small packages may be made using an existing URL or phone number.
The history of the law dates back to 2016, when the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard was passed by Congress, requiring USDA to establish a national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are or may be bioengineered.
Two years later, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service published the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard and required mandatory compliance by the beginning of 2022.
Not everyone agrees that this is the right time for action. Betsy Booren, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for the Consumer Brands Association, noted that, while the organization supports establishing a uniform regulatory framework for the disclosure of bioengineered foods and foods that include bioengineered ingredients that promotes transparency and provides consumers with the information they need about the products they use every day, it does not believe this is the best time to do it. “We have urged government officials to extend the regulatory flexibilities put in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and temporarily pause the implementation of new regulations until the pandemic recedes and the supply chain catches up,” she says. “We believe the government must take a ‘do no harm’ position right now that allows companies to focus on delivering essential products to consumers.”