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USDA Issues Final Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard

January 17, 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled its long-awaited bioengineered food labeling rule on Dec. 20 detailing how companies will disclose the presence of bioengineered ingredients in their food products.

The rule defines bioengineered foods as those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature. The implementation date is Jan. 1, 2020 (the date for small food manufacturers Jan. 1, 2021). The mandatory compliance date is Jan. 1, 2022. Regulated entities may voluntarily comply with the standard until Dec. 31, 2021. USDA has formulated several frequently asked questions that can assist in understanding the rule.

By January 2022, packages of food that contain bioengineered ingredients must include one of three disclosure options: a USDA-selected logo that includes an image of a field with the letters “BE”; the phrase “bioengineered”; or a QR code.

In a regulatory victory for NMPF, the rule reiterated that meat or milk from animals consuming bioengineered grains does not make that meat or milk a bioengineered food. USDA stated that under any voluntary disclosure, it would be inappropriate to label that same meat or milk as being “derived from bioengineering.”

Overall, the rule follows the statute closely, especially with respect to the definition of “bioengineered food.” For example, if it is determined that a bioengineered ingredient is refined to the point that it does not contain detectable genetic material that has been modified using recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology, that will not trigger a disclosure. As a result, most bioengineered ingredients in dairy products (e.g. enzymes, vitamins) will not require reporting.

As the disclosure deadline approaches, dairy companies should verify whether their flavorings, sweeteners, enzymes, and other ingredients contain genetic material. If not, then no disclosure is needed. NMPF believes that most finished dairy products will not need to have a mandatory bioengineered disclosure.