Comment on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard and Let the USDA Know that You Want Meaningful GMO Labeling

For two decades consumers have been fighting for meaningful GMO labeling that gives them clear and accessible information about the genetically engineered content of their food. This commitment to transforming our food system and providing GMO transparency has resulted in more than 70 state-level labelling initiatives, countless petitions, and ongoing outcry from consumers highlighting the fact the United States and Canada stand alone from 60 other countries in their lack of mandatory GMO labeling. The culmination of these efforts is the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS), the United State’s first federal mandatory GMO labeling law.

While establishing a mandatory federal GMO labeling law is an achievement, the draft version of the NBFDS released on May 3rd leaves many questions unanswered and indicates plenty of cause for alarm. GMO labeling that is not clear, inclusive, or meaningful will not provide consumers the GMO transparency that they have been fighting for all of these years. The USDA is currently accepting comments through July 3rd and the Non-GMO Project encourages you share your feedback on this important issue.

Tell the USDA that you want the law to be:

MEANINGFUL

For the Standard to be meaningful it should include ALL GMOs, regardless of whether or not the finished product contains detectable transgenic DNA.

The current draft NBFDS includes an exemption that would leave most GMO products unlabeled. It potentially exempts products in which “the modified genetic materials cannot be detected,” which includes nearly all processed food due to the current limits of testing methodology. For example, products containing a processed oil from GMO soybeans, corn, or canola would not bear a disclosure.

Likewise, new GMOs like those produced through various gene editing techniques (e.g., CRISPR, RNAi) are not yet commercially testable and again would not need to have a label.

To ensure meaningfulness, the NBFDS should use the same definition found in the Codex Alimentarius, a global collection of food safety standards. The Non-GMO Project aligned our GMO definition with this one because it is the most authoritative international definition of genetic engineering—the World Trade Organization even uses it to resolve trade disputes.

As drafted, the Standard has a very limited definition of GMO, one which does not include new genetic engineering techniques. These new GMOs are entering our food system and they must be clearly labeled for shoppers. Rather than inventing a new definition, the NBFDS should align with the definition that is both the most authoritative internationally and which also forms the basis for the United States’ most established non-GMO program (the Non-GMO Project).

CLEAR

To be clear for shoppers the rule MUST allow for disclosure using terms that people understand; the most well-established terms are “genetically engineered” and GMO. These are the terms used by leading scientific organizations and by international authorities including the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

At this time, the only term allowed for text claims in the rule is “Bioengineered,” a medical term that has never been in use in the food industry. For us to truly know what’s in our food, the terminology used on packaging must align with what we already know and what we hear about from media, scientific research, and leading global organizations. A recent 2018 report from the Hartman Group shows that 97% of shoppers are aware of GMOs. Transparency means using language that people know and understand, not misleading them with a new term that is not in use. Ultimately, the law is only meaningful if shoppers understand what the label says.

The rule MUST allow for disclosure using plain English terms that people understand; the acronym “BE” is newly invented and has no meaning to the public. The only acceptable acronyms should be “GMO” or “GE.” Any symbol used must be neutral in tone.

The symbols proposed in the draft rule included an abbreviation of bioengineering, “be.” As stated above bioengineering is not a term that people are familiar with and its abbreviation will only serve to further confuse shoppers. Unlike “GMO food” or “GE food,” the term “BE food” is completely unknown.

The symbol should also be neutral in tone in alignment with other food labeling programs administered by the USDA, such as USDA organic or USDA Process Verified. The symbol included in the draft Standard featuring a smiley face or sunshine is overtly promotional.

ACCESSIBLE

To be truly accessible to all people, the only acceptable disclosure is on-pack plain English terms that are well established and well understood by the general public; e.g., GMO, GE, genetically engineered, genetically modified.

The draft rule proposes allowing QR codes for disclosure; this requires a smartphone and broadband connection. These prerequisites discriminate against more than 100 million Americans—especially many in rural, low-income, minority and elderly populations—according to the USDA’s own 2017 study. The draft also proposes a text message option, which for many people would impose additional costs for each message sent and received. Both of these options are time consuming and unrealistic; they impede rather than promote the disclosure the law is meant to support.


Here’s what’s at risk if we don’t comment; the final rule might:

  • Exempt GMO foods that have been processed and refined (which is the majority of GMO foods)
  • Exempt new GMOs, such as those developed through gene editing techniques like CRISPR and RNAi
  • Fall behind the rapid introduction of new GMOs by only updating its list of GMO foods once per year.
  • Restrict text claims to the unfamiliar term “Bioengineered,” making it illegal to disclose GMO content using the much more familiar terms “Genetically Engineered” or “Genetically Modified”
  • Allow a newly invented acronym, “BE,” which consumers have no way to know means GMO, as well as use a label that has a strongly favorable stylistic bias
The Non-GMO Project opposes biased GMO labeling symbols

The draft NBFDS includes the above symbols. Tell the USDA it is NOT acceptable to confuse the American public by using a newly invented acronym and smiling, winking symbols!

Take Action Now

Send your comments to the USDA today and let them know there are critical changes needed to make the NBFDS meaningful, clear, and accessible.

Step 1: Draft your comments (see talking points below)

Step 2: Upload your comments
Your comments must be submitted by 11:59 EST on July 3, 2018 via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Please note, there is a word limit. If your comments are longer than 5000 characters please upload a letter rather than posting comments.

Here are key talking points for consideration:

1. Include all GMO foods

The Standard should include ALL GMOs, regardless of whether or not they have detectable transgenic DNA in the finished product. This means including:

  • Refined, processed food, even if it cannot be tested for GMO content due to the limits of current testing methodology
  • New GMOs like those produced through various gene editing techniques (e.g., CRISPR, RNAi), even though they are not yet commercially testable

In order to support inclusion of all GMO foods, the NBFDS should adopt the definition of Biotechnology (aka Bioengineering) used by Codex Alimentarius. The Codex definition is the most authoritative international definition, as it is what the World Trade Organization looks to in resolving trade disputes. It is also the definition used by the Non-GMO Project, which holds the United States’ most well-established industry protocol for GMO avoidance.

The Codex definition is as follows:

Modern Biotechnology – the application of:

  1. in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles; or
  2.   fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.


2. Use clear terms that the public recognizes and understands

Restricting text claims to an unrecognized single term (“Bioengineered”) would be burdensome and expensive for food companies and misleading to consumers. The rule should also allow for use of the terms “Genetically Engineered” and “Genetically Modified,” as these are the terms that consumers are the most familiar with as evidenced by their use in commerce, the media, and in the scientific literature.

If the rule is going to include a logo, the logo on that acronym should be “GE” or “GMO,” rather than the newly invented acronym “BE.” “BE” is an invented term that has no meaning to the public and is therefore highly misleading. Further, any logo used as part of this law should be aesthetically neutral, in keeping with AMS’s other program logos, such as those used for Process Verified and Certified Organic.

 3. Ensure that the disclosure is accessible to all

Two of the disclosure methods proposed in the draft are time-consuming and unrealistic and should not be included in the final rule. Namely:

  1. QR codes are an unacceptable disclosure method, as they discriminate against more than 100 million Americans—especially those in rural, low-income, minority and elderly populations; the USDA’s own 2017 study confirms this
  2. Likewise, the text message disclosure option proposed in the draft rule is unacceptable; for many people it would impose additional costs for each message sent and received

The only acceptable disclosure is plain English terms that are well-established and well understood by the general public; (e.g., GMO, GE, genetically engineered, genetically modified.)

4. Provide a reasonable opportunity to comment further

The draft NBFDS published on May 3 is not a complete draft; it leaves many significant questions unanswered. Because of the technical complexity of the issue, there are critical dependencies within the rule that are impossible to adequately comment on without seeing a fully developed draft that indicates clear direction. As such, the public must have another opportunity to comment once a fully developed standard has been drafted.

If you would like to learn more about the Non-GMO Project’s technical suggestions to the USDA we encourage you to watch our webinar for brands and retailers.

____________________________________________________________________________

The Non-GMO Project Butterfly is More Important than Ever

While the Non-GMO Project will continue to lead efforts to ensure that this law is as meaningful as possible, it’s clear based on what was released that Non-GMO Project Verified will remain the most trustworthy and accessible to avoid GMOs. To learn more about our work please visit, www.nongmoproject.org. Remember, that with every purchase we have the power to impact the way our food is grown and made. Look for the Butterfly when you shop and together we can protect our non-GMO food supply for future generations!

 

WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE: Why you should comment on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard

 

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18 Comments

Ernie Tindell

label all foods, GMO/nonGMO, also country of orgin and where processed

Reply
Luis A Olvera

My dear corrupted FDA officials…
What part of ALL products should be included you do not understand?
What part of using plain English in ALL the labels you do not understand?
What part of “BE” “SMILEY FACES” YOU understand that is DECEIVING to the public? because is UNETHICAL!
and finally,
What part of having the labels using QR codes as a disclosure method, discriminating against more than 100 million Americans YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND?
WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW….. EVERYTHING,
Even the bribes and kick backs you are receiving from Monsanto, GM, etc… lets see if you understand GM…

Reply
Vonda

Please label ALL genetically modified foods as GE or GMO so that we, as consumers, can exercise what should be our RIGHT to make a CLEAR choice as to what we want to consume for ourselves and our family!

Reply
Bill Dump the Current Administration

Our government puts money before human life the all need to go!

Reply
Ayana

I would love to have an accessible and clear labeling for GMOs because I think it’s very important that us consumers are aware of what is in our food!:)

Reply
Katherine Murray

You know, changing the name doesn’t change the product. It’s still bad for you. We want concise, clear labeling that EVERYONE can look at and know immediately that product is a genetically modified organism. A simple GMO stamp. I know you want to hide it because no one in their right mind wants to consume it. There is absolutely no benefit to GMOs except to line big agricultural companies wallets. CLEAR. CONCISE. LABELING. NOW.

Reply
Mike

Odd how they can enforce everything made to make a product is labeled but they refuse to say what altered state if any it has, this is a failure of the so called leaders in the political spectrum across the globe, I can at least respect honest of the company’s that do tell the consumer exactly what is done with their food even if i will not buy buy it, but a company whom refuses or does not think its important to disclose its practices is worse. It all starts at the top with the leaders who do not seem to have our interest, but their own.

Reply
Gail

While we as consumers don’t know the long term effects of GMO’s it can’t be positive as long as it’s making the Government billions and putting hard working farmers out of business. Please label all gmo’s processed or otherwise according. It’s important to know what we’re consuming.Also stop with the misleading labels .

Reply
Holland Chapman

Place GMO or GE on all foods packaged or none packaged such as fresh vegetables foreign or domestic, also if handled in a location that has GMO or GE products.

Reply
Nell Collins

Absolute straight forward labeling of ALL bioengineered food and chemicals that contain bioengineering in food production,label MUST SAY BIO ENGINEERED,not BE,be or smiling faces to portray that the stuff within the package id 100% natural when in fact they are not. Labels must contain country of origin AND who,what ,when and where it was processed.

Reply
Stephanie

If the USDA will not remove GMOs from our foods in the US. Please put clear labeling of GMOs in every single products with large bold texts. It is important for consumers to know what they are putting in their bodies.

Reply
Robyn Hansen

Please label ALL genetically modified foods as GE or GMO so that we, as consumers, can exercise what should be our RIGHT to make a CLEAR choice as to what we want to consume for ourselves and our family!

Reply
Amber

It’s bad enough, it’s been in our food for years and no one even knew what they are eating!!! It’s only right to let us know now, I wanna ban GMOs! I feel like our health is a business and it a shame we gotta fight for a label, no more putting us in the dark! Please label GMOs, we have the right to know what we are eating.

Reply
E. Sterling

All GMO labeling must be clear and detailed.
1. Include all GMO foods

The Standard should include ALL GMOs, regardless of whether or not they have detectable transgenic DNA in the finished product. This means including:

Refined, processed food, even if it cannot be tested for GMO content due to the limits of current testing methodology
New GMOs like those produced through various gene editing techniques (e.g., CRISPR, RNAi), even though they are not yet commercially testable
In order to support inclusion of all GMO foods, the NBFDS should adopt the definition of Biotechnology (aka Bioengineering) used by Codex Alimentarius. The Codex definition is the most authoritative international definition, as it is what the World Trade Organization looks to in resolving trade disputes. It is also the definition used by the Non-GMO Project, which holds the United States’ most well-established industry protocol for GMO avoidance.

The Codex definition is as follows:

Modern Biotechnology – the application of:

in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles; or
fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.

2. Use clear terms that the public recognizes and understands

Restricting text claims to an unrecognized single term (“Bioengineered”) would be burdensome and expensive for food companies and misleading to consumers. The rule should also allow for use of the terms “Genetically Engineered” and “Genetically Modified,” as these are the terms that consumers are the most familiar with as evidenced by their use in commerce, the media, and in the scientific literature.

If the rule is going to include a logo, the logo on that acronym should be “GE” or “GMO,” rather than the newly invented acronym “BE.” “BE” is an invented term that has no meaning to the public and is therefore highly misleading. Further, any logo used as part of this law should be aesthetically neutral, in keeping with AMS’s other program logos, such as those used for Process Verified and Certified Organic.

3. Ensure that the disclosure is accessible to all

Two of the disclosure methods proposed in the draft are time-consuming and unrealistic and should not be included in the final rule. Namely:

QR codes are an unacceptable disclosure method, as they discriminate against more than 100 million Americans—especially those in rural, low-income, minority and elderly populations; the USDA’s own 2017 study confirms this
Likewise, the text message disclosure option proposed in the draft rule is unacceptable; for many people it would impose additional costs for each message sent and received
The only acceptable disclosure is plain English terms that are well-established and well understood by the general public; (e.g., GMO, GE, genetically engineered, genetically modified.)

4. Provide a reasonable opportunity to comment further

The draft NBFDS published on May 3 is not a complete draft; it leaves many significant questions unanswered. Because of the technical complexity of the issue, there are critical dependencies within the rule that are impossible to adequately comment on without seeing a fully developed draft that indicates clear direction. As such, the public must have another opportunity to comment once a fully developed standard has been drafted.

Reply

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