Fine tuning GMO labeling laws
Nov. 10, 2017
by Jeff Gelski
The USDA's GMO labeling rule may include details on highly processed sugars and oils.
KANSAS CITY — The new GMO labeling law might have some influence on what ingredients and foods qualify as non-bioengineered/non-GMO. Highly processed sugars and oils are examples.
The GMO labeling law, known as the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, was signed into law on July 29, 2016. The US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) is scheduled to publish a final rule by July 2018.
The Just Label It campaign, which advocates for the labeling of GMO foods, wants the final rule to include refined sugars and oils, adding that all foods with ingredients derived from forms of genetic engineering should carry GMO disclosures.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has the authority to cover highly refined sugars and oils in the GMO labeling law, said Craig Morris, Ph.D., deputy administrator for the AMS livestock, poultry and seed program, on June 27 in Las Vegas at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition.
“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.”
Randal Giroux, vice president of food safety, quality and regulatory for Minneapolis-based Cargill, said, “Some do not want the USDA to require products be disclosed unless genetic material is detected, but there are several limitations in the ability of existing techniques to accurately detect and quantify genetic material once a raw agricultural product like corn, soy or canola has been processed.”
He said there would be significant technical challenges in implementing a standard based on food ingredient testing.
Processing aids could be another concern. MGP Ingredients, Atchison, Kansas, offers wheat-based ingredients. Wheat by US law must be non-GMO. Yet the company has received Non-GMO Project verification on several wheat-based ingredients.
“The question is simply, are any processing aids or other ingredients being used that are needed to produce the wheat product that may not be ‘non-GMO’ in status,” said Michael Buttshaw, vice president of ingredient sales and marketing. “The answer could potentially impact the overall ‘non-GMO’ integrity of the product. Each company must do their own assessments in this area and make their determinations while following the federal guidance and regulations around ‘non-GMO’ compliance.”
Companies may submit the full composition of wheat-containing ingredients to obtain the Non-GMO Project verified seal, which provides a comprehensive, unbiased and transparent third-party verification for compliance with Non-GMO Project standards, said Ody Maningat, Ph.D., vice president of ingredients R&D and chief science officer for MGP Ingredients.
“While there is no GMO wheat commercially grown in the US, all of MGP’s native and specialty wheat starches, and many of our specialty wheat proteins, are Non-GMO Project verified to provide additional assurance of their non-GMO status,” he said. “Non-GMO claims are important for our North American and international customers who manufacture flour-based foods such as bakery, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereal and various snack products.”
Unlike wheat, more than 90 percent of the soybeans grown commercially in the United States are GMO, but non-GMO soy is available. Paul Lang, general manager of Natural Products Inc., Grinnell, Iowa, said adding that non-GMO soy ingredients is not a problem for his company.
“For over 20 years the sellers and marketers of non-GMO products and grain have had systems to be able to sell to Japan, Korea and the EU,” he said. “The good news is that the US farmer, the seed industry, the freight system and the processors are capable of hitting the tolerances necessary to sell to other countries that have limits on GMOs. NPI tests every single incoming load of grain for GMO contamination. Most other processors have similar programs as well. Since the grain is usually grown under contract, the farmers are careful every step of the way to ensure identity preservation.”
Lang said he would like to see the US GMO labeling law also cover the labeling of ingredients and products promoted as non-GMO.
“In our opinion, it is time for the US government to set guidelines for non-GMO labeling,” he said. “It mirrors what happened in the organic industry. Before the NOP (National Organic Program), there were many certification companies with slightly different rules. It made it hard to comply with so many different agencies. If the US regulations are reasonable and also consistent with the rest of the world’s standards, this should be a win-win for everyone.”
NPI is already under the USDA PVP (Process Verified Program), which allows the company to use the USDA label under the claim of “non-GMO at a 99.1 percent detection level.”
“This is already a great program and monitored by the USDA,” Lang said.
Kate Huston, director of government relations and policy for Cargill, also would like to see the US government regulate non-GMO labeling.
“Because there is no government standard for non-GMO ingredients and products, ingredient suppliers and food companies selling non-GMO products are basing claims on a variety of standards, including both third-party and individually developed standards,” she said. “We believe industry and consumers would benefit from a clear, consistent standard. If the government were to establish a federal non-GMO standard, not all products currently marketed as ‘non-GMO’ would necessarily comply. A federal non-GMO standard would also enable alignment of GMO definitions, eliminating the risk of conflict between what requires disclosure as genetically modified and what could be called non-GMO.”