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 law mandates that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalize a GMO labeling standard by July 2018. While USDA has missed this deadline, the Fall 2018 Unified Regulatory Agenda notes that the final rule should be available in November 2018. The standard set by Congress is solely intended to address labeling and marketing and is neither a health nor safety standard.
Congress also directed the USDA to minimize the law’s impact on the domestic and international value chain. The USDA is expected to mandate that firms choose at least one of the following three options for GMO disclosure: a QR code, an on-pack label, or on-pack text to be determined by the USDA Secretary. CRA believes the USDA’s proposal should be consistent with other global standards and limit burdensome and costly analyses.
Further, the law notes that bioengineered food includes modified genetic material. Refined ingredients sourced from bioengineered crops, such as refined corn products, are processed as to no longer contain modified genetic material at measurable levels. As a result, CRA believes that the threshold for disclosure should be practical and that refined ingredients sourced from bioengineered crops do not warrant disclosure. This would allow for flexibility of the rule, avoid consumer misunderstanding, reduce the potential for negative trade implications, and reflect the broad scientific consensus behind the safety of bioengineered ingredients. However, this determination should not preclude companies from voluntarily labeling products which contain refined ingredients.
This rule will have very little effect on high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) because the leading food companies using HFCS have indicated they intend to provide disclosure for products made with HFCS from bioengineered corn, whether disclosure is required or not. Consistent with the law, CRA believes the rule should not require disclosure of HFCS from bioengineered corn because HFCS is a pure sugar; it does not contain DNA. So, HFCS is the same whether it was or was not produced from bioengineered corn.