The use of bioengineered ingredients in food manufacturing must be declared on product labels by Dec. 31, 2021, according to The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS). The Standard was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 21, 2018, and applies to most food manufacturers and importers in the United States. There currently is an exemption for those generating less than $2.5 million in annual sales.

Bioengineered foods are defined as foods that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature. The NBFDS is the United States’ first official attempt to make shoppers aware of the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food production.

“In the absence of credible independent long-term feeding studies, the safety of GMOs is unknown,” according to a spokesperson for The Non-GMO Project, Bellingham, Wash. “Increasingly, citizens are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to opt out of the GMO experiment.

“The NBFDS mandates the use of the new term ‘bioengineered’ instead of the familiar ‘GMO’ in disclosures. It also allows an unreasonably high 5% ingredient threshold for GMO contamination,” according to The Non-GMO Project.

For context, the European Union uses a 0.9% threshold for most foods. The Non-GMO Project has the same 0.9% maximum to obtain certification. There are also no penalties for failing to comply with the NBFDS. This is a noteworthy departure from the National Organic Program (NOP), which levies fines of up to $11,000 per violation.

Meat and poultry manufacturers should not confuse non-GMO with organic. Organic is non-GMO, but non-GMO is not necessarily organic. Non-GMO labeling is attractive to marketers who cannot produce organic foods for any number of varied reasons, including supply and cost, but want to appeal to shoppers looking for “cleaner” formulations.

Applegate Farms, Bridgewater, NJ, for example, sports the Non-GMO Project Verified logo on its organic meat products. Diestel Family Ranch, Sonora, Calif., has the logo on its organic meats. It also showcases the logo on some non-organic clean-label meat products, such as various whole muscle turkey cuts, deli-style meats, including pastrami, roast beef and turkey, as well as turkey burgers.

Coleman Natural Foods LLC, Golden, Colo., a subsidiary of Perdue Farms, Salisbury, Md., markets organic and no-antibiotics-ever meat. Select organic products have the Non-GMO Project Verified logo on front labels. Others have a “non-GMO ingredients” claim.

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) developed a list of bioengineered foods to help companies identify the foods and food ingredients that are available in a bioengineered form and may require disclosure. The list includes alfalfa, certain apple varieties, corn, cotton, certain eggplant varieties, certain papaya varieties, pink flesh pineapple, potato, salmon, soybean, summer squash and sugarbeet. 

Even if a food is not included on the list, regulated entities whose records show that a food they are selling is bioengineered must make appropriate disclosure of that food. There are several disclosure options, including text, symbol, electronic or digital link, and text message. Additional options such as a phone number or web address are available to small food manufacturers or for small and very small packages.

As mentioned, organic-certified foods are, by definition, considered non-GMO foods. Even non-organic ingredients used in organic-certified foods, have it be those labeled 100% organic, organic or “made with organic [ingredients],” must be non-GMO.

Formulators should be aware that The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, which identifies synthetic and non-synthetic substances that may not be used in organic crop and livestock production, includes some high-risk food ingredients made from crops commonly grown with GMO technology. This includes derivatives and carriers that may be found in processed meat and poultry products, such as starches, fibers, flavors and lecithin. Formulators who do not want products to be designated as bioengineered foods should work carefully with reputable suppliers to ensure all ingredients are free from genetically modified materials.