GMO labeling law moves forward, delay could be possible in the future

by Jeff Gelski
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A finalized GMO labeling law may be delayed.
 
LAS VEGAS — The Donald Trump administration has delayed the implementation of a new federal Nutrition Facts Panel as well as a new national menu labeling law. Could a finalized GMO labeling law be delayed, too?

That question was asked to Craig Morris, Ph.D., a deputy administrator for the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, in a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition June 27 in Las Vegas.

Craig Morris

Craig Morris, Ph.D, a deputy administrator for the USDA Marketing Service

“Well, we have a statutory requirement to have the regulation published by July of 2018,” he said. “So that (a delay) would be up to the administration. Our intent obviously is … the current marching orders we have in place is to have regulation in place by July of ’18.”

The new Nutrition Facts Panel issued by the Food and Drug Administration originally was supposed to become mandatory by July 26, 2018. The Trump administration has delayed compliance until a date yet to be determined. Morris said the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which will oversee the GMO labeling law, is working closely with the FDA and that mandatory compliance for both rulings potentially could be dates where manufacturers could come into compliance at the same time.

The Barack Obama administration enacted the GMO labeling law, known as the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, on July 29, 2016. Morris said the USDA hopes to release a proposed rule for public comment this fall.

The law defines bioengineered food as food intended for human consumption that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature. The Secretary of Agriculture shall determine the amount of bioengineered substance necessary to deem the food as bioengineered.

Morris said the USDA is facing an “aggressive” timeline to publish the final rule by July 2018. The transition to the Trump administration from the Obama administration is a factor.

“It takes some time often to bring new political leadership up to speed on this massive bureaucracy that they have inherited in the executive branch,” he said. “This is an unbelievably important law.”

The executive branch may have some say on the final rule, such as what items may receive exclusions.

 “The administration does have discretion in terms of choosing within legislative authority that which will be covered,” Morris said.

Highly refined sugars and oils potentially could receive exclusions. Currently the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has the authority to cover highly refined sugars and oils in the GMO labeling law.

“We haven’t asked for a new ruling on that yet,” Morris said. “However, that is very clearly one of the issues that we are dealing with. We understand the limitations in detecting genetic material in highly refined sugars and oils.”

Morris listed the nine areas of the GMO labeling statute:

  1. Defining bioengineered food;
  2. The authority to preempt state food labeling standards;
  3. The creation of federal mandatory disclosure;
  4. Providing manufacturers with three choices in disclosure: text, electronic disclosure such as quick-response (QR) codes, and other forms such as a symbol;
  5. Exclusions that do not require disclosure;
  6. Special allowances for small food manufacturers, although the definition of a small food manufacturer has yet to be determined;
  7. Food safety implications, although the statute in no way shape or form disparages bioengineered foods;
  8. Provisions for organically produced foods; and
  9. Enforcement.
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