USDA seeks comments on proposed bioengineered food disclosure rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture May 3 has invited public comment on the proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016.

The standard will 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 Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “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 is open for comment for 60 days. Due to the congressionally mandated timeline for this rulemaking, the comment period will not be extended, so it is important that anyone interested file comments in a timely manner.

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

The deadline for comments is July 3.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Law was enacted by Congress on July 29, 2016. The proposed rule previewed in the May 3 edition of the Federal Register.

Of the announcement of the start of the comment period for the proposed rule, the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food issued a statement, saying, “The proposed rule published by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is a critical step towards establishing a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard by the July 29, 2018 deadline.

“We want to sincerely thank Secretary Perdue, Under Secretary Greg Ibach, and the Agriculture Marketing Service team for their diligence to get this critically important proposed rule published. The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food remains committed to a standard that gives consumers access to information about the food they purchase; ensures that farmers continue to have the tools they need to feed a growing world population; and provides certainty to food manufacturers, retailers and others in the supply chain.

“Over 1,100 national, state and local organizations representing the food and agriculture value chain supported enactment of the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act, because it prevented a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws, that would have cost U.S. consumers, farmers and manufacturers billions of dollars.

“Given the importance of ensuring the final rule is in place by the statutory deadline, the Coalition will be analyzing the proposed rule and developing coordinated food and agricultural industry comments over the next 60 days. The Coalition looks forward to providing the Department with input that reflects the needs of consumers, farmers and the rest of the food value chain.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “The proposed National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, published by the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Marketing Service, will give consumers a valuable resource for making informed decisions about food.

“Just as important, USDA is doing this the right way, providing consumers access to information about their food purchases while also allowing farmers and ranchers to embrace the sustainable tools of modern agriculture.

“The proposed rule is based on sharing factual information, rather than emotional scare tactics. Science proves that GMOs are safe, and this national proposal strikes a much-needed balance compared to the chaos that would come from a patchwork of state-level labeling initiatives.

“America’s farmers and ranchers respect the need for consumer choice and we take immense pride in producing safe, healthful food. From both standpoints, this proposal is fair and ensures that food facts win the day over food hype. Bold leadership from Agriculture Secretary Perdue on this vital matter has helped ensure transparency and choice built on the clear foundation of sound science. We will further analyze the proposal and comment on areas that need improvement, but this proposal is a positive first step in a process that is important to farmers and consumers alike.”

Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber said the draft GMO disclosure rule “an important milestone. We’re one step closer to having a national mandatory GMO disclosure system. But, the draft rule leaves many fundamental questions unanswered. It fails to provide solutions for consumers without smart phones or consumers with lousy cell service, and fails to provide clear rules that ensure that QR codes will consistently scan.

“Consumers deserve a simple disclosure that covers all genetically engineered foods, including sugars, oils and the products of modern biotechnology. They should not have to fumble with their cell phones or only get half the story.”

Organic Consumers Association associate director Katherine Paul said, “The USDA’s long-awaited106-page proposal for how companies must disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients in their products includes eliminating the words ‘genetically modified’ or ‘genetically engineered’ and replacing them with ‘bioengineered.’

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“That means no more ‘GMO’—instead consumers will see ‘BE’ on the environmentally friendly looking green and yellow images. The images are just as insulting to consumers as the law, which the chemical and junk food industry lobbyists spent $400 million to pass—under the specious name of the ‘Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act.’

“Opponents renamed the loophole-ridden bill the ‘Dark (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act’ because its intent is clear: Keep consumers in the dark, by creating a long list of exemptions and/or by allowing companies to opt for electronic ‘smart labels’ instead of clear, plain language that anyone can easily read.

“The Dark Act preempted states from requiring labels on GMO foods, including Vermont, which had previously passed a GMO labeling law that took effect one month before Obama signed the Dark Act. Vermont’s law required far more foods and ingredients to be identified than the federal law that preempted it, and also required on-package labels stating a month before ‘produced with genetic engineering.’”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].