Food trade associations press OMB on GMO labeling timetable in a bid to avoid 'extended regulatory uncertainty'

Picture: istockphoto/Traitov

Trade associations including the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association have warned the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that failing to implement federal GMO labeling legislation in a timely manner could cause major headaches for the food industry.

In a letter to OMB director Mick Mulvaney dated August 9, the associations call for a meeting to press the point that “promulgating this regulation [signed into law by President Obama last year] by the statutory deadline is imperative, given the litigious nature of our opposition, and the costs to the economy that come from extended regulatory uncertainty.”

They add: “Given the short timeframe, with the statutory deadline only one year away, every phase of the rulemaking process is critical… Given this, we were concerned to see the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard placed on the ‘inactives’ list by the OMB, and hope that this does not indicate decreased priority for completing this rulemaking by the July 29, 2018 deadline.”

USDA can further reduce the economic impact of the GMO labeling law by harmonizing its effective date with the FDA’s Nutrition Facts Panel update, they add.

“We strongly urge you to consider the savings outlined above and the state-by-state regulatory patchwork escaped as a result of implementing the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act.”

USDA recently told this publication that it aimed to publish a draft of its proposed federal GMO labeling rule in the fall of this year (which will be subject to public comment) and said it was “working hard to meet the schedule in order to issue a final rule on the law in July 2018.”

Asked whether any of President Trump’s executive orders from January 2017 designed to scale back regulations might impact the timetable, a spokesman said: “The impact of the executive orders is being evaluated on this rule making.”

He added: “Implementation timelines have not been determined at this time.”

Unanswered questions

Right now, fairly significant questions remain, such as precisely what does ‘bio-engineered’ mean, and will highly refined foods derived from GM crops such as high fructose corn syrup or soybean oil (“that contain undetectable levels of bioengineered genetic material such that they are indistinguishable from their non-engineered counterparts”) require GMO labels?

The wording of any on-pack disclosure is also up for debate, with USDA currently considering whether terms already used by some firms such as ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering,’ ‘Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering,’ or ‘May be Produced with Genetic Engineering,’ might be acceptable.

There is also disagreement over what a symbol might look like such that it is “not disparaging toward bio-engineering,” and ongoing confusion over 'non-GMO' claims, which are not addressed in the legislation, but are currently very widely used, and don't always mean the same thing.

Read more HERE.

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