GE Food Labeling - Federal

In January 2016, JPA notified members that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack would hold a meeting on January 13, 2016 with proponents and opponents of genetically engineered (GE) food labeling with a goal of finding common ground to help guide lawmakers as they try to craft a solution to the labeling issue. It was reported that ten representatives from both sides of the labeling issue would attend the meeting.

According to an article in the January 28, 2016 issue of POLITICO's Morning Agriculture, Secretary Vilsack held two closed-door meetings. Proponents of GE food labeling included GMO Free Connecticut, Just Label It, Environmental Working Group, Ben & Jerry's, and Dr. Bronner's Soap, and food industry representatives included the Russell Group (representing the Grocery Manufacturers Association), Hershey Company, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, American Soybean Association and Nestle USA. The article notes "there was not enough common ground to emerge from that room with a GMO labeling proposal agreed upon by leaders from both camps."

JPA will continue to monitor federal efforts related to GE food labeling and provide updates, as information becomes available.

GE Food Labeling – State Activities

According to an article in the January 26, 2016 issue of POLITICO’s Morning Agriculture, a number of states are considering bills related to GE foods, including product labeling. Highlights of bills introduced in New York, Rhode Island, Missouri and New Jersey follow.

The New York State legislator will be considering a number of bills related to GE, including food labeling. The bills were introduced in 2015. Additional details are available here.

Rhode Island is also considering at least three GE food labeling bills introduced in January 2016. HB 7082 would require that any GE food be labeled as such. HB 7255 would require all food businesses (excluding restaurants) that have gross sales over $500,000 to post signs advising customers that all their foods contain modified organisms, unless their labels state otherwise. In addition, HB 7274 would require that raw and packaged foods entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering be labeled beginning January 1, 2017. Other details related to initiatives in Rhode Island are available here.

SB 1708 and SB 1700 have been introduced in the Florida Senate to require, in part, the labeling of GE foods. If passed, both bills would become effective on July 1, 2016. House Bill 1510 introduced in Missouri would also require the labeling of all GE foods. In New Jersey, legislation (S. 238) has been introduced to require the labeling of GE foods. The legislation would become effective six months following enactment.

JPA will continue to monitor these activities and provide updates, as information becomes available.

Consumer Reports’ Survey on Food Labeling

On January 27, 2016, Consumer Reports published an article online, available here, advising of the results of the group’s survey, “Natural Food Labels Survey,” which evaluated 1,005 consumers’ perceptions related to food labeling, including “natural” claims on foods and organic labeling. According to the press release Consumer Reports earlier petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban use of the “natural” claim on labeling so “shoppers aren’t misled.” In addition, Consumer Reports requested that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ban “natural” on meat and poultry as the term is “currently not well-defined or meaningful.” Consumer Reports notes that the FDA is seeking public comments related to use of the term “natural” citing the group’s petition as one of the reasons for taking such action.

In part, the study found:

•The natural label on packaged/processed foods currently means that no toxic pesticides were used (63% of consumers), no artificial materials or chemicals were used during processing (62%), no artificial ingredients or colors were used (61%), and no GMOs [genetically modified organisms] were used (60%).

•The organic label on packaged/processed foods currently means that no toxic pesticides were used (77%), no artificial ingredients or colors were used (73%), no artificial materials or chemicals were used during processing (72%) and no GMOs were used (72%).

•Sixty-two percent (62%) of consumers already buy food labeled natural. The overwhelming majority (87%) of these consumers would pay even more for natural food if the label met their expectations. For those consumers who currently do not buy food labeled “natural” (38%), three-quarters would buy food labeled “natural” if the label met their expectations.

•For the majority of food shoppers, key objectives when purchasing food include supporting local farmers (91% of consumers), supporting companies with good working conditions/fair pay to workers (89%), reducing exposure to pesticides (89%), protecting the environment from chemicals (88%), providing better living conditions for animals (84%), and reducing antibiotic use in food (82%). Avoiding artificial ingredients (79%) and GMOs (75%) are also key objectives for consumers.

Consumer Reports notes the “natural” term should be used for organic foods and contain no artificial ingredients. (While FDA’s current policy on “natural” prohibits the use of synthetic ingredients, the organic regulations permit the use of some synthetic ingredients.) In addition, Consumer Reports supports a verification process for those foods that bear the ‘”natural” claim similar to organic product labeling. Of particular note, Consumer Reports is requesting that consumers sign the group’s petition to ban the term or “give it real meaning.”

JPA's Task Force is working to draft comments to the FDA regarding a definition for the "natural" term. A copy of the comments, once drafted, will be shared with JPA members for review and input.

OEHHA's Proposition 65 Supplemental Website

JPA has been providing updates regarding California’s Proposition 65 regulation, which is administered by the California Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). OEHHA recently published a notice, available here, announcing the Agency will establish a website to provide details to the public regarding warnings the Agency receives for exposures to Proposition 65 listed chemicals. OEHHA has adopted regulatory text related to the information to be posted on the new website, which is available here. Of particular note, OEHHA may request information from manufacturers, producers, distributors and importers of a product, including food, about a warning for a Proposition 65 chemical that would be used by the Agency in developing content for the website. The information must be provided to OEHHA within 90 days of the request. At this time, the website is not currently operational.

Study Evaluates Factors Influencing Consumers’ Purchasing Decisions

Deloitte, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) recently issued a press release, available here, announcing a new study, “Capitalizing on the Shifting Consumer Food Value Equation,” which evaluated consumers’ purchasing decisions and the “drivers” for such decisions. According to the report, consumers have historically made decisions based on taste, price, and convenience (i.e., Traditional drivers); however, these Traditional drivers are no longer the sole deciding factors when foods and beverages are purchased. “Evolving drivers” such as health and wellness, safety, social impact, experience and transparency are also being considered as part of the purchasing decisions. The study was conducted to help retailers and manufacturers understand the drivers and implications of the shifts in consumer purchasing decisions.

FDA Publishes FSMA Technical Amendments

The FDA recently issued two notices in the Federal Register to correct “editorial and inadvertent errors” (e.g., punctuation and grammar) in two of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) final rules. The Technical Amendment related to the Current Good Manufacturing Practice Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food final rule is available here (80 FR 3714; January 22, 2016). Of particular note, the FDA has included in the definition of “small businesses,” any subsidiaries and affiliates. In addition, the Agency has deleted the removal of husks and stems as examples of harvesting activities. The Technical Amendment pertaining to the Current Good Manufacturing Practice Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Animal Food final rule is available here (80 FR 3716; January 22, 2016).

Hogan Lovells Memo - Dietary Guidelines for Americans

In January 2015, an update was provided regarding publication of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. JPA's legal counsel, Hogan Lovells, recently published a memorandum, available here, with additional details.

As always, please contact me with questions or comments.

Patricia Faison

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