By: Jennifer Hatcher, Chief Public Policy Officer, Senior Vice President, Food Marketing Institute
In order to prevent a confusing and costly patchwork system for labeling products containing or derived from bioengineered ingredients, Congress passed a law that FMI supported to provide one national standard for disclosing this bioengineering information to customers.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was tasked with writing a rule to implement the law, and FMI again was involved with a large farm to fork coalition – the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food to provide comments to USDA on their framework. Now that we have a law and a rule, it is time to implement the rule.
The food retail industry often discusses how shoppers crave customization, personalization and digital shopping experiences from their grocers. Consumers want more information about the food they buy, including more about the ingredients in their foods and the disclosure of certain attributes like those derived from bioengineering. Importantly, this desire for information is not related to food safety or nutrition concerns. According to our U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study, customers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it was grown.
Food retailers work diligently to provide as much information as possible in a format that is easily accessible to customers and provides retailers with the opportunity to communicate additional information or context that might be of interest to shoppers. We have found that this context is particularly important in the context of ingredients or foods that are or are not bioengineered. Recently, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (BE Rule) established a new standard for disclosure of information to consumers about the BE status of foods. FMI is pleased that this new standard allows information to be shared with customers in a variety of ways – digitally, on the package or by utilizing a symbol.
From an industry perspective, here are three high-level takeaways from the final rule:
The BE rule provides a uniform national standard to ensure that there is no patchwork system; that federal preemption is maintained; and that customers will receive consistent information about products regardless of where they are manufactured or purchased. Many of our member companies operate in a nationwide or even global food supply chain; not a state-by-state market. A national standard allows companies to produce and sell food products in a transparent and consistent manner throughout their operating area.
TransparencyGrocery stores offer a large variety of products, from large national brands of manufactured foods to unique local and seasonal offerings that differ from location to location. Additionally, although grocery stores fully support providing customers with the transparency they desire, the manufacturers and suppliers are generally better positioned to provide information regarding the individual food items and ingredients used. The final rule significantly reduces the burden of disclosures for those fresh, prepared foods that are made and sold within a grocery store while ensuring that retailers are not only able to provide the required disclosures, but also those provided voluntarily.
Consistent Industry Vocabulary
Economic impact studies and consumer feedback confirm that a single national standard is far preferable to a state-by-state approach both in the eyes of our customers as well as to achieve much-needed supply chain efficiencies. The rule establishes a workable marketing standard for the disclosure of foods produced or derived from bioengineered (BE) ingredients.
Questions on Implementation
Send your implementation questions our way as we are working with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to ensure we get retailers the guidance needed to implement the rule with the greatest efficiency and clarity possible. Contact Jennifer Hatcher or Dana Graber with your questions.
For more information, view the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Webinar here or visit FMI.org/biotechnology for more resources.