The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard​​ (NBFDS) – which narrowly defines bioengineered foods as those that “contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature” – kind of shot in the middle and missed every constituency,” ​observes Nate Ensrud, VP, US technical services, certification, and food safety solutions at FoodChain ID​​, which helps firms to comply with the standard.​​

For some stakeholders in the natural foods industry, he says, it missed the mark​​, both in scope (the definition fails to capture thousands of products that have been produced with genetic engineering) and application (many objected to ‘bioengineered’ vs ‘GMO’ as the chosen terminology and the option to use digital disclosures on food labels).

For other stakeholders who believe slapping a blanket statement about bioengineering (which has thousands of different applications) on a jar of pasta sauce is about as useful as saying ‘science was used to make this product,” ​the NBFDS in its current form is just a costly bureaucratic headache​​ without any obvious consumer benefit.

Narrow definition of ‘bioengineered’

A major sticking point is the definition​ ​of ‘bioengineered,’ which excludes meat and dairy from animals fed GM feed, incidental additives, and highly refined oils and sweeteners made from GM crops such as soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup if they contain no detectable modified DNA.

Gene-edited foods, in turn, occupy something of a grey area. They may not contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through traditional rDNA techniques, but how easy is it for a third party to determine if gene-edited material meets the definition of “cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature?”

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