What Retail RDNs Need to Know: Final Biotech Labeling Regulation

What Retail RDNs Need to Know: Final Biotech Labeling Regulation

January 30, 2019
Annette Maggi

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

In December, the USDA finalized labeling regulations for foods that include a bioengineered trait.  While the full regulation is available here, this article highlights the top things retail dietitians need to know about the new regulation.

  • USDA has identified thirteen foods that are subject to labeling as a bioengineered (BE) food or ingredient:  alfalfa, apple (Arctic™ varieties), canola, corn, cotton, eggplant (BARI Bt Begun varieties), papaya (ringspot virus-resistant varieties), pineapple (pink flesh varieties), salmon (AquAdvantage®), soybean, summer squash and sugar beets.  This list can be updated as new bioengineered traits and foods are introduced into the marketplace.
  • Bulk items and produce are required to be labeled, which has implications for retailers.  The required labeling message can be included on signage or directly on display containers.  Foodservice-style items sold at retail, which can be immediately consumed, are not subject to this labeling regulation.
  • January 1, 2020 is the implementation date but January 1, 2022 is the mandatory compliance date, meaning all products available for sale must have the appropriate messaging on labels by this date.  Your shoppers cannot be fully certain about whether a product has BE ingredients until 2022.
  • There are a variety of ingredients and foods that are exempted from labeling including highly refined foods that do not contain detectible levels of bioengineered material (think soybean and canola oil), beef, poultry or seafood from animals fed feed which contains a BE trait, incidental additives, and restaurant foods.  Additionally, USDA established a threshold level where a food or ingredient can have up to 5% inadvertent BE contents without requiring labeling disclosure.  This addresses the fact that ingredients with BE traits may become comingled with other ingredients during transportation, storage, and processing.  
  • Manufacturers and retailers have four methods they can use to disclose the presence of a BE food or ingredient:  text (“bioengineered food” or “contains bioengineered food ingredient”), symbol (pictured with this article), electronic or digital link or text message.  The information is suggested to be placed on the information panel by the “Distributed By” information or on the Principle Display Panel of the package.

USDA developed the labeling guidelines, but the vast majority of foods in the grocery store are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No information is yet available on whether FDA will adopt the published regulation as is or make tweaks to the rules.