The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture has approved use of a label for meat and liquid egg products with the claim the products were from animals raised on diets containing no bioengineered grain or ingredients. The approval was in response to an application for such a label from the Non-GMO Project, Bellingham, Wash., and three West coast food companies.

It was thought the approval may encourage other meat, poultry and egg producers to seek to qualify for using the label to distinguish their products in the marketplace and among consumers who seek foods that are free from bioengineered ingredients.

“The Non-GMO Project, a third-party certifying organization, approached FSIS in October 2012 about potentially indicating on product labels under FSIS jurisdiction that the animals were fed diets without genetically engineered ingredients,” said Cathy Cochran of the FSIS office of public affairs and consumer education. “Since then, FSIS has worked with the Non-GMO Project, three food companies, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Agricultural Marketing Service to be sure that the potential label claims are truthful and not misleading to consumers.

“The approved labels state that the products meet the standards of a third-party certifier regarding the use of non-GMO feed,” Cochran continued. “The agency has not developed any new policy regarding non-genetically engineered or non-GMO products and is not certifying that the labeled products are free of genetic engineering or genetic modifications.”

Cochran explained the FSIS administers a prior label approval program.

“FSIS allows companies to demonstrate on their labels that they meet a third-party certifying organization’s standards, provided that the third-party organization and the company can show that the claims are truthful, accurate and not misleading, and provided there are resources to help consumers understand exactly what the claims and certification mean,” she said.

Cochran pointed to the USDA’s National Organic Program as another example of a third-party certifying organization.

The Non-GMO Project indicated it offers North America’s only third-party verification and labeling program for non-bioengineered food and products. It has developed a “Non-GMO Project standard” to which companies seeking verification that their products are free from bioengineered ingredients must adhere.

The standard requires practices and processes for preventing contamination of labeled products by bioengineered ingredients. The standard prescribes methods such as segregation, traceability, risk assessment, sampling techniques, and quality control management.

Once the Non-GMO Project’s product verification program determines a company’s products are in compliance with the requisite standards, a licensing agreement may be signed to allow the company to use the Non-GMO Project’s logo and verification mark on the product packaging.

The three companies joining The Non-GMO Project in seeking the label’s approval were Mindful Meats, Point Reyes, Calif., which markets organic grass-fed beef to northern California restaurants and retailers; Pitman Family Farms, Sanger, Calif., which markets Mary’s free-range chicken and other poultry products, and Hidden Villa Ranch, Fullerton, Calif., which produces eggs and egg products.

“It means everything to have this label, and we’re very thankful that FSIS worked with us to get this approved,” said David Pitman of Pitman Family Farms, which has 17 Non-GMO Project Verified products and is in the process of verifying more.

Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, indicated for products subject to FSIS oversight, the Non-GMO Project Verified label was reformatted and includes text that clarifies how the animal products meet the Non-GMO Project standard.

“Meat and eggs cannot be tested themselves for GMOs — that’s why we test the animal feed,” Westgate said. “The supplemental language will help clarify that.”

The approval of the label did not imply a change in the view of the USDA and the FDA that approved bioengineered crops and feedstuffs are safe to consume and do not significantly differ from crops developed through more traditional plant-breeding technologies.