In 2016, various states considered legislation to require the labeling of products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which would have created a patchwork of different state laws. And in June of that year, Vermont began implementation of their GMO labeling law. CRA undertook an economic impact analysis of the Vermont law and demonstrated that the cost of implementation would lead to an average increase in annual food cost of $1,050 per American family. The analysis also found that lower income families would have been especially burdened, as the increased costs could account for nearly 2.5 percent of the median income for the poorest fifth of the population.
To avoid the confusion and expense of conflicting state laws, Congress passed the National Bioengineered Labeling Standard in July 2016. The standard set by Congress is solely intended to address labeling and marketing and is neither a health nor safety standard.
The final rule was published on December 20, 2018. The final rule follows the directive of Congress for USDA to minimize the law’s impact on the domestic and international value chain. The final rule allows for various forms of disclosure, including text disclosure, symbol disclosure and digital disclosure (which also requires access to a 24-hour phone number).
Further, as the law noted that bioengineered food includes modified genetic material, USDA adopted the position that refined ingredients sourced from bioengineered crops, such as refined corn products, are not subject to mandatory disclosure if there are no detectable levels of modified genetic material. However, the final rule does permit broad use of voluntary disclosure options for products which include these ingredients. The final rule also set a threshold of 5% unintentional presence in an ingredient. Any intentional use of bioengineered ingredients would trigger disclosure.
All regulated entities, including food manufacturers with more than $2.5 million in annual sales, will be required to comply with the final rule by January 1, 2022.
In order to assist the supply chain with compliance for the final rule, CRA worked with industry partners on an educational toolkit which summarizes guidance from USDA in one place, including USDA guidance on validation testing of refined ingredients and test methods. This toolkit was endorsed by 24 trade associations representing much of the food and beverage supply chain.
This rule will likely have very little effect on high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which does not contain genetic material (e.g., DNA), because the leading food companies using HFCS have indicated they intend to provide disclosure for products made with HFCS from bioengineered corn via the voluntary option. Consistent with the law, CRA supports the provision in the final rule as it requires bioengineered disclosure of foods that contain modified genetic material and it provides a clear regulated pathway for companies to voluntary disclose that foods that do not contain modified genetic material include ingredients derived from bioengineered crops. HFCS is the same whether it was or was not produced from bioengineered corn.