The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) each filed comments this week on the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) proposed rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which sets forth requirements and procedures for disclosing bioengineered (BE) foods, most commonly known as GMOs, in a consistent way across the country.
FMI offered its support for the initiative, while also calling for sufficient time for implementation and for a consumer education campaign.
“FMI members are fully committed to providing their customers with the wealth of information they increasingly want and are considered a trusted resource regarding the foods they sell,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI president and CEO. “We agree that a consistent, uniform national standard will help meet this growing consumer desire for transparency in the food supply without creating unnecessary confusion.
“While FMI members will work to implement the rule as soon as possible after it is finalized by USDA, an adequate and orderly implementation timeline is important both to prevent disruption in the supply chain and to avert avoidable cost increases. We also encourage USDA to adopt a robust consumer education campaign to inform consumers about the new disclosure standard and how best to understand it. FMI would be pleased to partner in these efforts, which align with our own campaign to help consumers understand the wealth of information available for the nearly 28,000 products already utilizing digital disclosure methods such as SmartLabel.”
GMA called on the USDA to require disclosure of refined ingredients derived from bioengineered crops in food and beverage products in regulations for the federal labeling law.
“Our member companies have an unwavering commitment to meeting consumer demands for more information about the food and beverage products they purchase and consume,” said Dr. Leon Bruner, GMA’s chief science officer. “Consumers expect to know if a product contains an ingredient that was sourced from a bioengineered crop, so it is essential that disclosure of this information be required under a final rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.”
“Food and beverage manufacturers have a unique role and perspective as the most consumer-facing portion of the product supply chain, and their products are held to a high standard by consumers,” said GMA in its written comments on the proposed rule. “If consumers do not believe that they are getting the transparency and ingredient information they demand, the repercussions will be felt most directly by the companies that make their food and beverage products.”
GMA also stressed in its comments that USDA’s decision on whether to require the disclosure of refined ingredients derived from bioengineered crops will have a significant impact on the number of products that would be disclosed under the eventual final rule.
Roughly 90 percent of the U.S. corn, soybean and beet sugar crops are bioengineered. As a result, a substantial number of food and beverage products contain refined ingredients that come from these products. GMA estimates that excluding refined ingredients from the scope of the mandatory disclosure standard would result in 78 percent fewer products being disclosed under the federal law.
“Our ability to provide consumers with the information they seek—and in a way that they understand—will build trust in brands, industry and government institutions,” GMA said in its comments. “The ease with which the final regulations enable full disclosure of information to consumers will either support or diminish our ability to engage in a dialogue with consumers about technologies that improve lives, society and the environment.”
GMA also said that disclosure to consumers should occur when the cumulative weight of bioengineered ingredients exceeds 0.9 percent of a finished food product. According to the organization, this will provide consumers with a standard that is transparent while acknowledging that similar allowances for very small amounts of bioengineered ingredients are made in the U.S. for products certified as non-GMO.