Update on the USDA’s Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard; Withdrawing Proposed Rule to Revise the Regulation of Genetically Engineered Crops

The USDA has less than a year to release its proposed rule (due in July, 2018) outlining its Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard that will require labelling of bioengineered foods and food containing bioengineered ingredients. A recent review published online outlined the progress the agency has made, and what questions remain for industry. 

 The USDA has broad guidelines to follow when developing the proposed rule, and significant discretion to ultimately determine when and how disclosure will be required. Three modes of disclosure will be available including (i) text, (ii) a symbol, or (iii) scan-able electronic or digital link. One the first items tasked to the USDA was to determine if consumers would be able to access electronic or digital disclosures. The study found that over 77% of Americans own a smartphone, and over 97% of national and regional chain stores provide WiFi. However, it was concluded that consumers in rural areas, elderly consumers, and consumers using smaller retail outlets may have less access to the internet, and thus additional challenges using electronic or digital disclosures exist. The USDA must now use the study to determine if customers would have “sufficient” access to the disclosure standard using electronic or digital links, and if not, consult with retailers and manufacturers on additional options for disclosure.  

With less than 9 months to go, the USDA still has a lot of details to work out in developing the proposed rule. This includes significant issues such as defining the term “bioengineered” and whom the standard will apply to; defining “small food manufacturer”, “small package” and “very small package”, which will have alternative disclosure options or additional time to comply with the rule; and details of who will be excluded from the rule. 

USDA Withdrawing Proposed Rule to Revise the Regulation of Genetically Engineered Crops

Announced in November, the USDA has withdrawn its proposed rule to update regulation of genetically engineered crops after feedback received from stakeholders during the comment period.  

Commenters expressed concern over the scope of the proposed rule, suggesting that the criteria for a genetically engineered organism were too broad and would increase the regulatory burden for the biotechnology industry. Alternatively, some commenters thought that exemptions in the proposed rule would allow too many crops to forgo a safety assessment. Thus, now and the foreseeable future, genetically engineered crops will continue to treated similarly to crops created with conventional breeding practices by USDA.