USDA National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS)

Bill Pilacinski

    The NBFDS defines a new term, “bioengineered (BE) food”, which must be disclosed by food manufacturers, importers and retailers. BE foods include those that have been produced by recombinant DNA (rDNA), but not by conventional breeding or found in nature. Foods produced by new technologies (e.g., gene-editing) will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A list of BE foods is provided and will be updated annually. Exemptions are provided for refined foods with undetectable modified genetic material (e.g., sugar, oils); food with unavoidable BE substance at or below 5%; and food served in restaurants, similar retail establishments or by very small manufacturers. Disclosure may be by defined BE symbol, text, or by an electronic or digital link, with mandatory compliance by 1 Jan 2022. In developing the BE Standard, USDA made great effort to meet the requirements of the law, while addressing the public’s “right to know”, maintaining respect for the best science on food safety, and recognizing the concerns for unreasonable burdens on business, noting that “nothing in the disclosure requirements…conveys information about the health, safety, or environmental attributes of BE food...”. Thus, it is important to recognize that the Standard is primarily a law-driven, marketing tool. The BE definition is not consistent with Codex, USDA Certified Organic and many other countries’ laws that include gene editing and other new technologies. It should be expected that pressure will be brought to bear to conform to international definitions, and the significant regulatory requirements that accompany them, as more products using the new technologies are developed and enter the international marketplace. Organizations that support these technologies, like Genome Writers Guild, should consider how to best respond.