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FSIS Issues Guidance on Labelling Claims for Non-Bioengineered Meat, Poultry and Egg Products

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued a guidance document for companies that seek to make label or labelling claims (i.e., negative claims) concerning the fact that (i) bioengineered or genetically modified ingredients were not used in a meat, poultry or egg product; or (ii) a product was produced from livestock or poultry that were not fed bioengineered or GM feed.

FSIS has approved negative claims through its prior label approval process. Because the agency does not have the ability to independently verify negative claims for ingredients or feed, it has required establishments that make these claims to comply with standards established by a third­party certifying organisation. FSIS currently requires that the third­party certifying organisation’s standards be publicly available on a website and the label or labelling disclose the website address of the third­party certifying organisation. The agency also requires that the establishment demonstrate that its claims of third­party certification are truthful and not misleading.

FSIS has allowed the use of the terms “genetically modified organism” or “GMO” on product labels or labelling only if the name of the third­party certifying organisation contains these terms. However, the GMO labelling legislation that was recently enacted into law requires the USDA to develop and implement a mandatory national bioengineered food disclosure standard within two years. The legislation also addresses negative claims, providing that “a food may not be considered to be ‘not bioengineered’ or ‘non­GMO’, or any other similar claim describing the absence of bioengineering in the food solely because the food is not required to bear a disclosure that the food is bioengineered under this subtitle.” Therefore, FSIS has reconsidered its position and will allow the use of the terms “genetically modified organism” or “GMO” in negative claims provided that the label or labelling is otherwise truthful and not misleading.

Effective immediately, FSIS will begin approving negative 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 and that contain the terms “genetically modified organism” or “GMO”. In evaluating such claims, the agency will use the definition of “bioengineering” in the new law, which 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. Consistent with its past practice, FSIS will continue to allow the use of synonymous terms such as “genetically engineered.”

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