When are healthy vending machine snacks and beverages still healthy snacks and beverages? When the term genetically modified organisms on the packaging has been changed to bioengineered.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing a terminology change from ‘genetically modified organisms’ (GMO) to ‘bioengineered’ (BE) for certain foods. The proposed new rule aims to establish a national standard, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS), to disclose information about the BE status of snacks and beverages for consumers, and how those foods must be labeled.
Bioengineering, as defined by the proposed act, is a food “(A) that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and (B) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”
What does that mean in plain English? The current term, GMO, will be replaced with BE, and products that meet a predefined set of criteria must follow the newly established rules to comply with the proposed act. Unfortunately, this change will place more of the burden on the consumer to understand the different components of the proposed rule, and how each one impacts labeling.
Unlike the USDA organic label, the label for the NBFDS won’t be a single icon that is easily recognized. Instead, companies have the option of using a text declaration on packaging, such as “bioengineered food” or “bioengineered food ingredient,” or in a sentence such as “contains/may contain a bioengineered food ingredient.” Additionally, companies have a third option of using a digital link or QR code disclosure rather than a label, text or sentence.
The following are a few important points to know about the new labeling requirements when choosing snacks or beverages from the office break room vending machines.
- The most predominant ingredient in a food, snack, or beverage would independently be subject to established (Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA)) labeling requirements. This includes raw produce, seafood, dietary supplements, and most prepared foods such as breads, cereals, non-meat canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, and drinks.
- If a meat, poultry, or an egg ingredient is the third-most predominant ingredient, or lower, the food would be subject to the new BE labeling regulations.
Three important exceptions to the new BE labeling regulations are (1) when the first ingredient is meat, poultry, or eggs followed by any other ingredient even if that ingredient is one that has been genetically modified; (2) when the most predominant ingredient in a food is broth, stock, water, or a similar solution, and the second-most predominant ingredient in the food is meat, poultry, or eggs; and (3) if the food item in question is from an animal that consumed feed produced from or contained a BE ingredient.
Rather than expecting New York City employees to keep track of every snack or beverage that falls under the new labeling requirements, remove the guesswork and offer only healthy snacks and beverages in their break room vending machines. And don’t forget about New York City students when considering which type of vending machines to add to the school lunchroom. Not only are healthy snacks and beverages better for their growing bodies, but they are also better for their long-term health.