Bioengineered Food Disclosure law mired in details

Ray Mueller
Craig Morris

EGG HARBOR – Many decisions are yet to be made and numerous details must be tended to on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard law, the deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) told attendees at the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association's 2017 dairy symposium.

Passed by Congress on July 29 of 2016, the law is set to be implemented after July of 2018, symposium speaker Craig Morris pointed out. He acknowledged, however, that there are unsettled aspects of the law which are being addressed in many ways.

Public comments

On June 28, with responses that were due by July 17, the AMS posted 30 questions for which public input was sought, Morris indicated. Within two weeks, about 40,000 responses had already been received to the questions which are available on the website, he reported.

By July 27, AMS expects to receive a report from the Deloitte consumer research company which it hired to determine what electronic means consumers would need in order to obtain disclosure about the foods covered by the law, Morris stated.

In addition, he said a symbol that's not disparaging about bioengineering for labels or some other format needs to be created to identify those foods.

Other items on the 30 question list pertain to highly refined products such as sugars and oils obtained from bioengineered plants, to how or if imported foods should be subject to disclosure, and whether one or more disclosure categories would be appropriate to distinguish between foods that are bioengineered, contain bioengineered ingredients, or that contain ingredients from bioengineered animals or crops.

Disclosure provisions

Foods covered by the 2016 law are those intended for human consumption that have been produced as a result of recombinant in vitro DNA techniques – in other words, other than by conventional breeding or natural means, Morris explained.

The law does not apply to foods derived from animals (dairy products, meats, eggs) even if those animals ate feeds which were produced with bioengineered techniques, Morris emphasized. Food combinations containing any of those items will be subject to the law only if the product's first or second most predominant ingredient is broth, stock, water, or a similar solution, he noted.

As addressed in some of the 30 questions, questions yet to be answered in implementing the law pertain to the terminology such as interchangeable wording for bioengineering, the breeding techniques involved, the ingredients themselves, and the volumes or percentages of various ingredients, Morris observed.

Multiple exclusions

All foods served in restaurants or for eating on site at retail outlets are exempt from the disclosure law, Morris continued. Another exemption applies to foods provided by a yet to be defined “very small” manufacturer, he added.

In what's also yet to be defined as a “small food manufacturer” category, there will be two choices for appropriate disclosure, Morris noted. The choices are a telephone number and a website address for reaching the company.

Because of the regulations already covering their production, all organic foods are exempt from the bioengineered disclosure law, Morris pointed out.

If there are violations once the law takes effect, Morris said enforcement to assure compliance is authorized but that product recalls will not be among the enforcement measures.