The long-awaited USDA regulations for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) have been released. USDA presented its decision as founded on extensive scientific research and precedents established by FDA. Perhaps the most notable part of the rule is that refined ingredients with undetectable modified genetic material are not bioengineered food and are thus exempt from the NBFDS.
In one part of the ruling, USDA notes: “refined beet and cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, degummed refined vegetable oils and various other refined ingredients are unlikely to require BE food disclosure.”
In addition, the rule carves out exemptions for foods served in restaurants and other retail food establishments and for very small food manufacturers. Also exempt are ingredients that contain up to 5 percent bioengineered substances, though only if this is inadvertent or technically unavoidable. Animal products cannot be considered as bioengineered solely because of the use of bioengineered feed. Finally, food certified under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 will also be allowed to make non-GMO claims.
How this will impact commodity prices is yet to be determined, but certainly this news is encouraging for the beet sugar industry, who has over the past decade universally adopted bioengineered beet seed. The threat of mandatory labeling hanging over the industry seems to have been lifted, which could narrow the price gap between refined beet and refined cane sugar in the U.S.
The rule is likely to influence food and beverage producers, many of which have put forth major marketing efforts to limit use of ingredients derived from GM crops and adopted more transparent labeling. Some could see this as an opportunity to return at least in part to the use of conventional ingredients such as soybean oil, corn starch, and beet sugar. Others may continue their current course, continuing to advertise products as GMO-free. Each company will have to decide if it is strategically advantageous to source ingredients not labeled as bioengineered.