USDA will now allow meat and eggs raised without genetically modified feed to feature GMO-Free labels. Until now, the agency did not allow negative claims about GMOs on packaging unless the terms were contained in the name of a third-party certifier, such as Non-GMO Project.
The August 19 USDA guidance marks the first substantial Agency action since the passage of the federal labeling law for GMOs in July, which mandated that USDA establish guidelines for GMO labeling within two years.
While the law clearly states that meat and eggs are not eligible for GMO disclosure, some food companies want the option to label GMO free products voluntarily.
“Claims advertising the non-use of genetic modification (GM) in food production (…) have become increasingly popular and desirable from a marketing standpoint,” reports The National Law Review. “Until now, no clear regulatory definition or oversight of such claims existed. Effective immediately, however, USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) will begin approving ‘Non-GMO’ claims for meat, poultry and egg products that do not contain bioengineered ingredients or that are derived from livestock that do not consume bioengineered feed.”
The guidance adopts the federal law’s definition of bioengineering, which applies only to organisms that have not been produced via conventional breeding. Concerns have been raised over whether the federal law's definition of GMOs may be too narrowly defined.
In this case, “bioengineering refers to a food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques, and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature,” according to the FSIS compliance guide.
FSIS has provided several examples of acceptable GMO-free labeling terms in its compliance guide including: “Pasture raised beef fed a vegetarian diet with no bioengineered ingredients” and “Derived from beef fed no GMO feed.”
The Center for Food Safety believes that this new policy raises several questions, particularly with regards to the cost of verification, director of sustainable agriculture Dough Gurian-Sherman told Capital Press.
USDA will be accepting comments on this GMO-free labeling guidance for 60 days.
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