Peeling Back the Layers of the New Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law


Peeling Back the Layers of the New Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law

January 27, 2022 | Research

Do you know what you put into your body today? Beyond listing the components of your turkey sandwich, do you know where each item originated and its nutritional value?

Increasingly, consumers crave transparency and want to know how the food they buy is produced, processed, and packaged.

According to the report, “Transparency Trends: Omnichannel Grocery Shopping from the Consumer Perspective,”  81% of shoppers say transparency is important or extremely important to them both online and in store.

“It’s one thing to know consumers want transparency, it’s another thing to act on it. We’re seeing more and more that providing detailed product information is key to building trust and loyalty with consumers,” said Tim Whiting, VP of Marketing at Label Insight (one of the sponsors of the report).  “Moving forward, brands will need to continue to listen better to their customers, continuously update their online and in-store content to keep pace with changing consumer preferences and be an open book when it comes to their products so that they can maintain and grow market share.”

One phrase that has caused significant debate among the food and beverage industry is Genetically Modified Organisms, or more commonly, GMOs.

While many brands already include GMOs disclosure on their packaging, as of January 1st 2022, the US government has instituted a new set of rules in response to the conversation.

Here are the law’s facts and how it will impact consumers and food-based companies.

Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law 2022 

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law, passed by Congress in July of 2016, directed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish this national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are or may be bioengineered. At the end of 2018, then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard with mandatory implementation by January 2022.

Understanding the New Bioengineered Disclosure Labeling Rules

This law is not necessarily new. What is different is the vernacular surrounding altered foods. Previously, Genetically Modified Organism or GMOs was the term known to identify something changed from the original version (through science, evolution, crossbreeding, etc.).

For example, according to the Food and Drug Administration,  92% of corn in the United States is genetically modified. From there, GMO corn can be found in processed foods in cornstarch, corn oil, and corn syrup. Additionally, GMO corn is used to feed livestock, like cows and chickens. Therefore, even if you are not eating GMO corn, you can still consume its by-product in other foods.

The new law calls for the word “bioengineered” to be used. USDA defines bioengineered as “food that contains genetic material that has been modified through certain laboratory techniques and for which the modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

The U.S. Lags Behind Other Nations in Bioengineered Labeling Requirements

The United States became the 65th nation in the world to adopt such requirements. According to the USDA, the law will cost the food industry about  $3.6 billion the first year, with ongoing costs estimated at less at $68 million to $391 million annually.

As mentioned earlier, the practice of notifying consumers about GMOs has been around for years. However, some of those brands will now be required to include specific packaging labeling and proper signage. The food or beverage itself will not change, but the marketing will.

“If you read the USDA position on this, it’s clear the labels are for marketing purposes, to let consumers know what they’re buying,” said Peter Goldsbrough, Ph.D., a botany and plant pathology professor at Purdue University, an article on Everyday Health. “Most consumers are already unclear about what GMO means, and this will probably add to that.”

These labels will contain the following:

  • “Contains a Bioengineered Food Ingredient”
  • A symbol in black and white or color
  • An electronic (QR code) or digital link
  • A phone number that consumers can text

Brands that do not use GMOs and want to include that in marketing efforts can utilize the Non-GMO Project label, which depicts an orange butterfly on a green blade of grass. Companies must adhere to the group’s more stringent standards.

How Do New Bioengineered Labeling Laws Impact My Business? 

The standard exempts food served in restaurants or similar retail food establishments. “Similar retail food establishments” is defined as:

  • a cafeteria
  • a lunchroom
  • food stand
  • food truck
  • transportation carrier (such as a train or airplane)
  • saloon, tavern, bar, lounge, other similar establishment operated as an enterprise engaged in the business of selling prepared food to the public
  • salad bars, delicatessens, and other food enterprises located within retail establishments that provide ready-to-eat foods consumed either on or outside the retailer’s premises.

Also, food items containing “highly refined” ingredients — such as sugar and corn oil — don’t require bioengineering disclosure. For example, when genetically modified corn is processed to make oil or corn syrup, the resulting “highly refined” ingredient shows no detectable DNA from the bioengineered crop. It, therefore, is not required to bear a bioengineered label.

The most significant change is that meat, poultry, or eggs products are exempt from the new law (even if those animals consume GMOs). Further, multi-ingredient products in which meat, poultry, or eggs are the first ingredient are exempt, even if other elements in the product do have detectable levels of modified genetic material.

Additional Resources: 

  • Overview of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard December 2020 (Webinar)
  •  Non-GMO Project – The Non-GMO Project is a mission-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to building and protecting a non-GMO food supply. We do this through consumer education and outreach programs, marketing support provided to Non-GMO Project Verified brands, and training resources and merchandising materials supplied to retailers.
  • The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) administers programs that create domestic and international marketing opportunities for U.S. producers of food, fiber, and specialty crops. AMS also provides the agriculture industry with valuable services to ensure the quality and availability of wholesome food for consumers across the country and around the world.
  • Green America harnesses economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.
  • Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources – Food@MSU’s mission is to listen to consumers, promote dialogue and help the public make more informed choices about food.
  • National Grocers Association (NGA) has represented independent community grocers located in every congressional district across the country and the wholesalers that service them.
  • Alliance for Science – The Alliance for Science seeks to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life globally.

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