Grocery Industry Backs Consistent Food Transparency Rule
The grocery industry offered comments broadly in favor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Proposed Rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which lays out requirements and procedures for disclosing bioengineered foods in a consistent way across the country. At the same time, however, industry trade groups raised some concerns with regard to the proposed rule’s scope and implementation.
“We agree that a consistent, uniform national standard will help meet this growing consumer desire for transparency in the food supply without creating unnecessary confusion,” noted Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which filed comments this week on the rule. “While FMI members will work to implement the rule as soon as possible after it is finalized by USDA, an adequate and orderly implementation timeline is important both to prevent disruption in the supply chain and to avert avoidable cost increases. We also encourage USDA to adopt a robust consumer education campaign to inform consumers about the new disclosure standard and how best to understand it.”
Sarasin noted that her organization “would be pleased to partner in these efforts, which align with our own campaign to help consumers understand the wealth of information available for the nearly 28,000 products already utilizing digital disclosure methods such as [grocery industry initiative] SmartLabel.”
Manufacturers’ ‘Unique Role’
“Consumers expect to know if a product contains an ingredient that was sourced from a bioengineered crop, so it is essential that disclosure of this information be required under a final rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard,” noted Dr. Leon Bruner, chief science officer at the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
“Food and beverage manufacturers have a unique role and perspective as the most consumer-facing portion of the product supply chain, and their products are held to a high standard by consumers,” GMA wrote in its comments on the proposed rule. “If consumers do not believe that they are getting the transparency and ingredient information they demand, the repercussions will be felt most directly by the companies that make their food and beverage products.”
GMA additionally emphasized in its comments that USDA’s decision on whether to require the disclosure of refined ingredients derived from bioengineered crops would have a considerable impact on how many products would be disclosed under the eventual final rule.
Since about 90 percent of U.S. corn, soybean and beet sugar crops are bioengineered, a significant amount of food and beverage products include refined ingredients that come from these products. GMA estimated that excluding refined ingredients from the mandatory disclosure standard would lead to 78 percent fewer products being disclosed under the federal law.
“Our ability to provide consumers with the information they seek – and in a way that they understand – will build trust in brands, industry and government institutions,” GMA commented. “The ease with which the final regulations enable full disclosure of information to consumers will either support or diminish our ability to engage in a dialogue with consumers about technologies that improve lives, society and the environment.”
GMA added that disclosure to consumers should take place when the cumulative weight of bioengineered ingredients exceeds 0.9 percent of a finished food product. According to the organization, this will provide consumers with a transparent standard while acknowledging that similar allowances for tiny amounts of bioengineered ingredients are made in the United States for products certified as non-GMO.