Is the G.M.O. labeling law in limbo?

by Jay Sjerven
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The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act of 2016 requires the U.S.D.A. to develop a national standard that food manufacturers would be required to use to notify consumers of the presence in food of bioengineered ingredients.

WASHINGTON — The steering committee of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, in a letter dated Aug. 9, requested a meeting with Mick Mulaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to discuss concerns that recent O.M.B. actions may delay or even thwart the establishment of a national bioengineered food disclosure standard.

The O.M.B. in July issued its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. The agenda provides an outline of what regulations administrative agencies are working on and intend to issue. The O.M.B. stated the agenda, the first issued by the Trump administration, “represents the beginning of fundamental regulatory reform and a reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burden on the American people.”

The agenda includes a list of “inactive” items, regulatory items that the administration considers to be no longer active but that may be reviewed and considered at some future date. Among the regulatory items the O.M.B. consigned to the “inactive” list is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national bioengineered food disclosure standard.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act of 2016, enacted on July 29, 2016, requires the U.S.D.A. to develop a national standard that food manufacturers would be required to use in order to notify consumers of the presence in food of bioengineered ingredients.

The act was viewed as a compromise between those who asserted bioengineered foods are no less safe than foods manufactured without use of bioengineered ingredients and those who held consumers have a right to know all that is in the foods they purchase and provide their families.

Congress directed the U.S.D.A. to establish and implement the standard no later than two years after enactment, or July 29, 2018. To that end, the U.S.D.A. has been accepting comments from stakeholders to assist in the rulemaking and will continue to do so until Aug. 25. A U.S.D.A. spokesperson told the press the department then intends to issue a draft standard for public comment this fall and to work hard to meet the July 29, 2018, deadline for implementation.

But the O.M.B.’s consigning the standard to the “inactive” list raised doubts as to the commitment of the Trump administration to meet the congressional deadline for the establishment of the standard.

In the Aug. 9 letter, the organizations advised Mr. Mulvaney that the National Bioengineered Standard Act blocked Vermont’s mandatory G.M.O. labeling law that was set to take effect and ensured that there would be only one national standard for labeling bioengineered food.

“This prevented $2.3 billion in economic costs, spared consumers from potential increased food costs of more than $1,000 per family, and further prevented a costly patchwork of differing state requirements,” the organizations said.

Noting Congress gave the U.S.D.A. two years to promulgate regulations implementing the act, the groups added, “Given the short timeframe, with the statutory deadline only one year away, every phase of the rulemaking process 
is critical.”

“Given this, we were concerned to see the national bioengineered food disclosure standard placed on the ‘inactives’ list by the O.M.B. and hope that this does not indicate decreased priority for completing this rulemaking by the July 29, 2018, deadline,” the organizations stated. “Promulgating this regulation by the statutory deadline is imperative, given the litigious nature of our opposition and the costs to the economy that come from extended regulatory uncertainty.”

The coalition leaders added that the U.S.D.A. could further reduce the economic impact of the standard by about $1.7 billion by harmonizing its effective date with that of the Food and Drug Administration’s Nutrition Facts Panel update.

“We believe these savings should be taken into account when determining the potential economic impact of the national bioengineered food disclosure standard,” they said.

The steering committee concluded its letter stating, “We strongly urge you to consider the savings outlined above and the state-by-state patchwork escaped as a result of implementing the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act. Furthermore, given the statutory deadline of July 29, 2018, we urge you to work closely with the U.S.D.A. to move this regulation expeditiously through the rulemaking process.”

Randy Russell of The Russell Group, Washington, spokesman for the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, said the coalition has been contacted by Mr. Mulvaney’s chief of staff, and expectations were a meeting will be called in the near future.
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