The label allows meat producers to use certification from the Non GMO Project to back the claim that their products are not from genetically modified inputs. It is the first time that USDA has allowed such a claim.
Several meat producers had requested to use such a label (USDA must approve all meat labels pre-market) but were denied on the basis that the department had not vetted the standards and practices of the Non GMO Project. That review is now complete.
The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service “allows companies to demonstrate on their labels that they meet a third-party certifying organization’s standards, provided that the third-party organization and the company can show that the claims are truthful, accurate and not misleading,” Cathy Cochran, a U.S.D.A. spokeswoman, was quoted in the Times.
“Meat and eggs cannot be tested themselves for GMOs – that’s why we test the animal feed. The supplemental language will help clarify that,” said Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project in a statement on the organization’s website.
Long gestation period
The review process lasted for more than a year and included two trips by Non GMO Project officials to Washington DC to meet with regulators. Part of that process was to get all of the regulatory stakeholders, FSIS, FDA and others, at the same table, according to Dave Carter, of Crystal Springs Consulting and the National Bison Association.
“We started meeting with them to find out what the key objections were and how we navigate through that. The main objective we had in January was to get everybody in the same room around the same table,” Carter told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I think it will be a very important claim for the meat industry. The non GMO label is the fastest growing label claim in the marketplace. Consumers want to have that option,” Carter said.
More differentiated marketplace
Carter said the new label claim will improve the market by providing clear delineation between products, giving consumers more information.
“My personal philosophy is having a healthy, sustainable marketplace is about differentiated products. If producers, especially smaller producers or those with innovative products, don’t have the opportunity to label their products with those attributes, there is nothing to differentiate them from the generic commodities out there,” he said.
“It’s a huge win for the industry. Monsanto and the others really are resistant to the labeling of products, whether they have GMOs in them or were produced without them. I think it’s also a huge win for the customers. It allows them to make the choice in the marketplace,” Carter said.
Interaction with 'grass fed' claim
There are some issues still to be worked out, Carter said, including how this new label will complement and interact with the existing “grass fed” claim.
“It’s one of the things that we are still trying to navigate through, to marry the certified grass fed claims with the non GMO claims. The grass fed claim allows you to feed the animals alfalfa. Now with the approval of GMO alfalfa, that alfalfa will have to be tested,” he said.
In the end, though, Carter said all the rigmarole is worth it. The better food producers can connect with their customers, the better for everyone.
“I really think the more that producers can have that direct relationship with their customers the greater the commitment to healthy food, healthy land and healthy families,” he said.