The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, created by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) under the US Department of Agriculture, is a final rule that establishes requirements for labeling bioengineered (BE) food and food containing BE ingredients. According to the rule, BE food refers to foods or ingredients that have been genetically altered in such a way that they could not be obtained though traditional breeding methods or found in nature. This includes foods comprised of genetically engineered or genetically modified plants and organisms. For example, rice has been selectively bred for centuries and is generally not BE, but new types of rice have been developed through genetic engineering to increase the vitamin content and are considered BE. Foods that require disclosure include any foods that are BE, multi-ingredient foods whose first ingredient is BE, and foods containing ingredients for which over 5% of the weight of that ingredient is BE. AMS has a nonexhaustive List of Bioengineered Foods, which includes general categories of available BE foods. Additionally, if a regulated entity has sufficient knowledge that their food product has an ingredient that is BE but is not on the AMS list, they are still responsible for labeling the food appropriately.
Foods that contain BE ingredients that have been refined to the point where their altered genetics are undetectable, foods with BE incidental additives that are at such insignificant levels that they are not considered ingredients, foods from animals that ate BE feed, and foods that are certified organic do not fall under the BE category and are therefore not subject to this disclosure rule. The rule states that in order to be compliant when not displaying a disclosure, regulated entities may use records demonstrating that foods that were previously considered to be BE have been refined so that the altered genetics are not detectable.
Food manufacturers, importers, and certain retailers will be required to disclose the BE status of their food products; however, AMS will grant exemptions from mandatory disclosure to restaurants, to grocery stores that provide prepared and ready-to-eat foods, and to very small food manufacturers. These regulated entities will have several options for how and where to display the required information. AMS proposes that disclosure information should be placed adjacent to the information panel, adjacent to the manufacturer/distributor name and location, or on an alternate panel. Disclosure methods include, but are not limited to, text, a symbol, an electronic or digital link with a telephone number, or text messaging. Each method must readily provide information about the food to any person looking for it. Entities that employ electronic or telephone messaging are prohibited from collecting user’s personal data and providing any marketing information alongside the disclosure information.
Entities that are required to disclose BE information are also required to keep and maintain adequate records of their BE food products that can be requested, and readily understood, by auditors. This means that the rule would allow entities to use records to establish that their food is not BE (i.e., foods with incidental additives or refined foods), and also require regulated entities to use records to demonstrate compliance with the disclosure standards when their food is BE.
In addition to mandatory disclosure, there is also an option for voluntary disclosure by exempt entities or for foods that are not considered BE by AMS’s standards but are derived from BE crops or foods.