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Proposed Regulations on GMO Labelling Issued

The USDA is seeking comments from interested parties by 3 July on a proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. U.S. law prohibits states or other entities from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered. Instead, the USDA is required to establish a uniform national disclosure standard for human food that is or may be bioengineered. This standard must include several options for compliance, including text on package, a symbol, or a link to a website (QR code or similar technology). Foods in which meat, poultry and egg products are the main ingredient will be exempted, as will very small manufacturers and restaurants. In addition, the USDA is prohibited from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed.

The non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy group Center for Food Safety issued a press release in response to the issuance of the USDA proposal highlighting the importance of the public comment process “because the proposal presents a range of alternatives for public comments and makes few decisions, leaving considerable unknowns about its outcome.” For example, the association notes, instead of requiring clear, on-package labelling in the form or text or a symbol the USDA is proposing to allow manufacturers to instead choose QR codes that would have to be scanned in order for the consumer to access the information. The Center for Food Safety contends that, since a QR code image requires a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, “this option would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to this technology.” By contrast, the association favours requiring on-package text or symbol labelling “as the only fair and effective means of disclosure for GE foods.”

According to the association, another major unanswered question is whether highly refined genetically engineered foods, such as cooking oils, candies and sodas that have ingredients derived from GE crops, will be covered by the labelling requirements. The proposal also seeks input on how to deal with newer forms of genetic engineering (such as synthetic biology or gene-editing) and whether to include foods produced through these methods.

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