The USDA will allow meat and eggs to be labeled as being raised without genetically engineered feed, marking a departure from the agency’s previous policy.
Until now, the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service hasn’t allowed labels to include negative claims about genetically modified organisms unless they’re in the name of a third-party certifier, such as the Non-GMO Project.
With the recent passage of a federal labeling law for GMOs, FSIS has re-evaluated its policy. Under that bill, foods cannot be labeled GMO-free just because they’re not required to disclose genetically engineered ingredients.
The FSIS has now adopted a new policy that gives meat and egg producers more leeway, though their claims must still be confirmed by a third-party certifier.
Meat and eggs that are certified as organic will also be allowed to make non-GMO claims.
In its recent guidance explaining the policy shift, FSIS provided several examples of acceptable labeling terms, including: “Pasture raised beef fed a vegetarian diet with no bioengineered ingredients” and “Derived from beef fed no GMO feed.”
The Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit critical of federal biotech oversight, believes the FSIS guidance raises several questions, said Dough Gurian-Sherman, its director of sustainable agriculture.
It’s unclear exactly how the lack of GMO content in livestock feed will be verified, he said. Costs for small producers will depend on the supporting documentation necessary.
“They need to consider carefully the potential costs,” Gurian-Sherman said.
The guidance doesn’t specify the allowable limit of trace GMO content in food, though it does adopt the federal law’s definition of bioengineering, he said.
The Center for Food Safety is concerned this definition could be interpreted so narrowly as to exclude some GMOs, he said.
The federal law only applies to organisms that could not have been produced through conventional breeding.
Some genetic alterations could be achieved through normal means, but biotechnology has greatly accelerated this process and made it more common, Gurian-Sherman said.
The Global Farmer Network, which supports biotechnology, doesn’t have a problem with such voluntary labeling for marketing purposes, said Mary Boote, its executive director.
“I also don’t think it’s necessary,” Boote said. “It doesn’t impact the health or safety of that product for the humans or the animals or the environment.”