The USDA's Final Rule on Mandatory Disclosure of Bioengineered Foods in the US

What you need to know...

16 April 2019

Do you make or sell a product in the US that is bioengineered (BE) or contains BE ingredients? Maybe you're not sure if the ingredients you're using are BE? Or maybe you don't know why you should be paying attention to these details in the first place?

This article highlights some of the key points in the area and will address some of the important questions with respect to the most recent regulatory updates in the United States (US).

Earlier in 2018, a proposed rule for a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) was released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), followed by a three-month comment period.  During this time, industry and academics alike had the opportunity to submit their opinions on the proposed changes…and they did not disappoint, with over 14,000 comments submitted!  After an additional five months of patiently waiting while the USDA attempted to address all of these comments, the final rule was eventually released on 21 December 2018.

So, what does this mean for the food industry with respect to BE foods in the US? 

The first thing you should know is that it has nothing to do with health and safety, and everything to do with marketing.  In fact, as of the 19 February 2019, some companies have already begun to alter their food labelling to comply with the regulation – because, as one of the conditions of the NBFDS, depending on the production method or the contents of a food product, a BE food disclosure may now be a requirement.  

The disclosure indicating a food is BE can take various forms, including the new "bioengineered" symbol, a written statement, a QR code, or a phone number with a statement asking you to "text for more information". Further modifications and exemptions will be available, for example, in the case of smaller businesses and products in small packages.

The bottom line is, if you are packaging a BE food or food product (intended for human consumption) for retail sale, or if you are selling food in bulk retail, then you may be responsible for complying with these disclosure requirements.  As of 1 January 2022, mandatory compliance will be in full effect – and even if you are exempt from the disclosure, it's worth keeping the NBFDS on your radar for future updates and amendments that may be relevant to your product.

How can you find out more information on the NBFDS?

Be sure to check out the recording of our recent webinar, The USDA's Final Rule on Mandatory Bioengineered Food Disclosure – What You Need to Know (http://www.intertek.com/knowledge-education/webinars/usda-final-rule-on-mandatory-bioengineered-food-disclosures/ ).  You will learn more about which foods qualify for disclosure, who qualifies for exemptions from disclosure, and more!  You will also get a simple checklist which you can use to help determine whether you are required to comply with this standard. 

Review the FAQs from the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service at: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/be/frequently-asked-questions-national-bioengineered-food-disclosure-standard .  

For more information, visit: www.intertek.com/agriculture/biotechnology/

Please feel free to contact us directly with any questions or comments: food.sci-reg@intertek.com.  

Today's expert blogger is Erika Pateman, an Associate within Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy. She is a graduate of the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences. Ms. Pateman is an Associate member of the Health Claims and Clinical Trials team within Intertek's Food and Nutrition Group in Canada. She provides expertise to the Health Claims team in the area of scientific substantiation, as well as assists in helping clients navigate global health claim regulations.