OTA releases statement on GMO/BE labeling, spars with NGFA
May 8, 2018
The Organic Trade Association over the weekend said it is still evaluating the rule that the Agriculture Department released last week for labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients, which USDA calls "bioengineered" or BE.
But OTA also took objection to the way the National Grain and Feed Association last week characterized a tolerance for genetically modified material in organic food.
"The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is glad to see the proposed rule released as time is running out on the deadline set by Congress to regulate the mandatory disclosure of GMO's in food," Laura Batcha, OTA CEO and executive director, said in an email.
"We welcome that the proposed rule states the obvious, that organic products are exempt from disclosure because GMO's are unequivocally prohibited in organic and 'made with' organic products," Batcha said.
"The proposed rule is unfortunately silent on a prohibition on non-GMO claims from dairy and meat products derived from animals fed GMOs despite instruction by the statute.
"On the critical question of whether the definition of bioengineering includes highly refined products, USDA has not disclosed their view but rather posed questions, which likely obscures an already determined outcome.
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"Companies selling non-organic food should consider going well beyond the confines of this proposed rule if they want to meet the consumers' interest in food transparency.
"OTA will be working with its members in the $50 billion dollar a year industry to analyze the proposal and its impact on organic companies and consumers."
Interpretations of biotech tolerance
In a separate email, The Organic Trade Association offered a correction in response to the National Grain and Feed Association's statement in Friday's Hagstrom Report that "a 5 percent tolerance for biotech presence exists within USDA's National Organic Standard …"
"Under 7 CFR 205.105 of USDA's National Organic Program regulations, products sold or labeled as '100 percent organic,' 'organic,' or 'made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))' must be produced and handled without the use of excluded methods (genetic engineering/GMOs)," the OTA said.
"Contrary to comments made by the National Grain and Feed Association, the organic regulations do not set a tolerance level. Instead, genetically engineered products are strictly prohibited. Any level of unintended GE contamination triggers an investigation and potential non-compliance, suspension, or revocation.
"Under 205.671, a tolerance level is set for organic products when testing detects pesticide residue levels that are greater than 5 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency's tolerance for the specific residue detected. Products that exceed the limit must not be sold as organic."
An NGFA spokeswoman responded, "While the organic standards do not permit the intentional introduction of biotech products, our understanding is that they do permit tolerances for non-organic material for some organic claims."
"It is our understanding that the adventitious presence of BE ingredients does not necessarily disqualify the use of an organic claim, and that was the context in which the statement was made in our release, as the AMS proposal is phrased as 'inadvertent or technically unavoidable' presence.
"So, our understanding is that the 5 percent is a tolerance for non-organic material that may be present in an organic product for the product still to be labeled as organic."
The spokeswoman also noted that other industry organizations including the Alliance for Biotech Facts has cited the tolerance level.
NGFA President Randy Gordon pointed out that the Agriculture Depatment's Agricultural Marketing Service had released a statement that notes that "unlike many pesticides, there aren't specific tolerance levels in the USDA organic regulations for GMOs."
"As such, National Organic Program policy states that trace amounts of GMOs don't automatically mean the farm is in violation of the USDA organic regulations. In these cases, the certifying agent will investigate how the inadvertent presence occurred and recommend how it can be better prevented in the future."