By Randy Gordon, President; and Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
The NGFA submitted recommendations specific to the grain, feed and processing industry to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on its proposed rule implementing the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law.
Enacted in July 2016, the law mandates establishment of a uniform national disclosure standard for bioengineered food in an effort to prevent a patchwork of state or local food labeling requirements that would disrupt supply chains and interstate commerce, and drive up food costs for consumers. Following publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service on May 4, the public was given until July 3 to submit comments on the proposed rule.
As a member of the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, the NGFA helped draft the Coalition’s 23-page statement, but also authored a separate statement that focused and elaborated on several aspects of the coalition’s statement most important to NGFA-member companies. The American Feed Industry Association joined in signing the NGFA statement.
The NGFA-AFIA statement included the following suggestions and clarifications:
- NGFA and AFIA reiterated and expanded upon its support of the coalition’s recommendation that USDA implement a separate 5 percent threshold for unintentional (adventitious) presence of bioengineered substances in individual ingredients while still allowing the resulting food product to be exempt from being labeled as bioengineered. This reflects realistic industry best practices given the growing conditions and storage, handling and transport practices utilized in commerce, the statement noted.
- NGFA and AFIA advised USDA to reconcile the definitions under the congressional statute for “bioengineering” with the existing Codex Alimentarius Commission definitions for “modern biotechnology” and their “conventional counterparts.”
- For products that do not meet the definition of “bioengineered food,” but contain an ingredient derived from the Bioengineered Source List, NGFA and AFIA said manufacturers should be permitted to make voluntary disclosures, provided that any such claims are truthful, not misleading, and otherwise consistent with applicable federal law
- NGFA and AFIA emphasized the importance of observing the underlying law’s mandate that animal feed and pet food, as well as meat, milk, eggs and other human food derived from animals fed bioengineered grains or other ingredients, are exempt from mandatory labeling; and
- NGFA and AFIA also emphasized the importance of relying on existing records maintained by the supply chain – including grain handlers – as sufficient to document compliance with the marketing standard.
In its comments, the NGFA and AFIA noted they support USDA in “developing a proposed rule that does not disparage the use of agricultural biotechnology, which scientific experts around the globe have found to be safe and beneficial to global food security and sustainability.
“We also concur wholeheartedly with the coalition’s statement that the Disclosure Standard is not designed to ensure the safety of food products, nor is it grounded in any concern about the safety of bioengineered foods,” the organizations said. They noted that bioengineered food and ingredients have a demonstrated record of safety, and that the labeling requirements were a consumer information and marketing, rather than food-safety, standard.