USDA creates new voluntary “non-GMO” certification option for industry.

  • As the food industry is well aware, companies continue to confront the challenge of developing appropriate marketing claims to advertise the absence of genetically modified (GM) content in food products.  FDA has issued draft guidance on this topic dating back to 2001, but such guidance has not been revisited or finalized and there is little FDA enforcement in this claim arena.  There also is a third-party organization, the “Non-GMO Project,” that offers independent verification (based on process verification and the testing of high-risk ingredients) of the “non-GMO” status of food products.
  • On May 1, Secretary Tom Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a letter to Agency employees announcing the development of the “first Process Verified Program claim for non-GMO/GE food products.”  Regarding the program itself, the letter states as follows:

Recently, a leading global company asked AMS [USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service] to help verify that the corn and soybeans it uses in its products are not genetically engineered so that the company could label the products as such. AMS worked with the company to develop testing and verification processes to verify the non-GE [genetically engineered] claim.  While the Process Verified Program itself is not a new program, this is the first non-GMO/GE claim verified through USDA. It will be announced soon, and other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service.

  • USDA has declined to issue further comments on the certification program at this time.  Media reports are hailing the program as a government-issued certification to support GM-“FREE” claims, although it is not clear that USDA would support this particular claim wording.  Many question whether any foods truly can be certified as GM “free” due to the potential for cross-contamination by GM ingredients.  Although details regarding the scope, cost, and claims that will be supported under USDA’s program remain to be seen, the program represents a significant development in the “non-GM” claim space as it will be the first government-sponsored effort to provide verification in support of such claims.