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BIO comments to USD-AMS on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law (RE: Questions Under Consideration)

August 25, 2017

Mr. Bruce Summers
Acting Administrator
Agricultural Marketing Service
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Room 3069 South Building
Washington, DC 20250

Submitted via GMOlabeling@ams.usda.gov

RE: Proposed Rule Questions Under Consideration (Posted June 26, 2017)

Dear Mr. Summers:

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) thanks the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA-AMS or the Agency) for seeking input into the implementation of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. BIO is pleased to submit responses to questions 1-5 and 7-12, for which BIO members have unique expertise. In addition, BIO is a member of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF), a broad-based coalition spanning the food supply chain – from seed producers, to growers, to food manufacturers and retailers – dedicated to increasing the public’s understanding about the science and safety of genetically engineered organisms. In addition to these responses, BIO directs USDA- AMS to the CFSAF’s responses submitted August 25, 2017, to which BIO is a signatory.

BIO is the world's largest bioscience innovation trade association representing nearly 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products. BIO represents the majority of agricultural biotechnology product developers in North America.

In the past few years, a number of states passed laws requiring or conditionally requiring on-package labeling of certain bioengineered food, setting up the potential for a patchwork of differing and conflicting national, state, and local requirements. Because this patchwork legislation could threaten the free movement of food throughout the United States and worsen stigmatization of technology, Congress passed and the President signed The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law (the Law), which broadly preempts state and local laws while establishing a mandatory bioengineered food disclosure program with uniform national standards.

It is notable that responsibility for establishing and implementing the disclosure program rests with USDA, under the Agricultural Marketing Act, and not the United States Food 2 and Drug Administration (FDA). This is because the disclosure program is designed solely for marketing purposes. The law creating the program has not changed the FDA’s separate and distinct authority to require accurate labeling on all food, including bioengineered food, with respect to safety, nutrition, or material differences related to composition or certain properties of the food. That legal authority remains intact.

BIO supports the labeling laws and regulations as currently administered by the FDA and the principles underlying the USDA-AMS program that establishes a uniform national bioengineered food disclosure standard, including the scope of food subject to the standard and the various options available to food manufacturers for complying with the standard.

BIO and its members were actively engaged with the entire food value chain – some 1,100 organizations from across the United States – in support of the federal legislation establishing a national standard and preventing inconsistent and misleading state laws from causing confusion and commercial disruption. We are happy that we can engage with USDA-AMS, food companies, farmers, food retailers and other stakeholders to help establish the regulations necessary to implement the law, including offering BIO’s point of view on a number of the questions published by USDA-AMS on its website.

It is important to note that in addition to supporting the new mandatory marketing program for bioengineered food, BIO has always supported the right of food companies to voluntarily label their products, including foods that are not bioengineered, for marketing purposes, as long as the labels are truthful, not misleading, and consistent with the future national mandatory disclosure standard. We embrace transparency and will continue to support robust voluntary disclosure even outside the defined scope of the USDA-AMS program.

BIO members are actively engaged in efforts to promote transparency and these efforts will continue and become even more critical through the implementation of the USDAAMS program. In 2013, the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) launched “GMO Answers,” an innovative project that embraces consumer curiosity about how our food is grown, including the use of biotechnology in food and agricultural production. GMO Answers is committed to an open, transparent conversation with consumers. The program makes information about technology easy for the public to access and evaluate. It enables consumers to make their own informed decisions with facts in hand. GMO Answers also has established a strong online and social media presence. BIO and CBI continue to engage with food manufacturers and retailers to help them answer consumer questions about the use of science in agricultural and food production and will continue to do so as this law is implemented...

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