USDA proposes bioengineered labeling rules

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National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard proposed symbols

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Department of Agriculture released proposed National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standards and is seeking public comments.

The need for the standards were enacted by Congress July 29, 2016, to provide a uniform way to offer meaningful disclosure for consumers who want more information about their food and avoid a patchwork system of state or private labels that could be confusing for consumers and would likely drive up food costs.

“This rulemaking presents several possible ways to determine what foods will be covered by the final rule and what the disclosure will include and look like,” said USDA Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a press release.

“We are looking for public input on a number of these key decisions before a final rule is issued later this year.”

The proposed rule previewed in the May 3 Federal Register and is now open for comment for 60 days.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) proposes to define “bioengineering” with respect to food as referring to a food “(A) that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and (B) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

“It is important that consumers be well informed about their food,” said Joe Cornely, senior director of corporate communications at Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

“It is also important this information and all food labels be consistent across the country. They should be the same in California, Ohio and Florida and these standards work to get us there.”

This proposal is a positive first step in a process that is important to farmers and consumers alike, he said.

“We can’t allow labeling to give the consumer an impression that there is something unsafe about their food,” Cornely said about the scare tactics some labels have presented.

Before creating the proposed rule, the USDA’s AMS received more than 112,000 responses.

The proposed rule prohibits a food derived from an animal from being considered a bioengineered food solely because the animal consumed feed produced from, containing or consisting of a bioengineered substance.

Companies, under the proposed rule, may disclose bioengineered food or ingredients in three ways: text, symbol, or electronic or digital link disclosure.

The AMS proposed three alternative symbols, or logos, with variations of the symbols and invites public comment on them.

Send comments

Comments may be submitted online through the Federal eRulemaking portal, www.regulations.gov. Comments may also be filed with the Docket Clerk, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Room 4543-South, Washington, DC 20250; or by fax, 202-690-0338.

Due to the Congressionally mandated timeline for this rulemaking, the comment period will not be extended. The deadline for comments is July 3.

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Katy Mumaw is a graduate of Ohio State University where she studied agricultural communications and Oklahoma State University earning her master's in agricultural leadership. The former Farm and Dairy reporter enjoys family time and sharing the stories of agriculture.

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