Organic meat and poultry producers can now use a streamlined process to get approval for labels verifying that their products do not include genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. These products may also now use a “Non-GMO” label claim. Because of this, we’re updating a previous blog from our “Organic 101” series.
In 2014, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) streamlined procedures for including a “non-genetically engineered” statement on the label of organic meat and poultry products. This continues to be consistent with organic regulations, which have always prohibited the use of GE in all organic products. Today, FSIS is adding further process improvements and labeling flexibilities, in light of recently passed legislation. Many organic stakeholders have expressed an interest in using “Non-GMO” label claims to clearly communicate to consumers that organic products do not contain genetically engineered ingredients, and that organic animals were not fed genetically engineered feed.
So why the change? In a newly-passed law, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act, Congress stated that organic certification is sufficient to make claims about the absence of bioengineered ingredients, such as “non-GMO.” Also, the Food and Drug Administration recently clarified its policy to accept claims that products do not contain genetically modified ingredients, including “non-GMO” statements. This lets USDA grant additional labeling flexibility to organic producers and processors. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which runs the National Organic Program and establishes organic standards, worked closely with FSIS on their updated guidance. FSIS and AMS have long shared responsibility for verifying accurate labeling of certified organic meat and poultry products.
The new procedure released by the FSIS allows certified organic meat and poultry producers to obtain approval of non-GMO label claims based on their organic certification. USDA organic regulations already require certified operations to obtain their certifier’s approval of labels that use the term “organic” or display the USDA organic seal. Now, a certified organic meat or poultry processor can modify or add a label claim to a previously approved label in accordance with the recently published guidance document entitled “Statements That Bioengineered or Genetically Modified (GM) Ingredients or Animal Feed Were not Used in Meat, Poultry, or Egg Products.” The label approval procedures may be found on the FSIS website.
Non-GMO label claims must be carefully worded so they do not confuse or mislead consumers. They may make a specific claim regarding the process that was accomplished without the use of GM materials, but they must also add a clear statement that the USDA organic regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering in the production of organic products.
For example, the FSIS may allow an expedited label claim for an organic poultry product that states “Chicken raised on a diet containing no Genetically Engineered ingredients.”
Proper label use will be verified during normal FSIS verification inspection tasks and during routine NOP certification inspections – which occur on an annual basis for organic operations.
The expedited process will not only save time and expense for organic producers, it will enable them to more easily communicate with consumers that their products maintain organic integrity and are free of GE ingredients.