Last week, the USDA published a series of questions seeking input to establish a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, as mandated by amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 that went into effect in July 2016.
The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Act requires the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture to establish disclosure standards for bioengineered food. The Act preempts state-based labeling laws for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as those adopted in Vermont last year.
The USDA is considering public input on the disclosure standards until July 17, 2017. Two key issues are under consideration. The first is whether certain genetic modifications should be treated as though they are found in nature — for example, a mutation that naturally confers disease resistance in a crop. The second concerns what types of breeding techniques should be classified as conventional breeding — among "conventional breeding" techniques are hybridization and the use of chemicals or radiation to introduce random genetic mutations.
These seemingly mundane questions strike at the heart of GMO controversies and implicate the use of breakthrough CRISPR gene editing technologies. Gene editing allows novel and precise genetic modifications to be introduced into crops and animals intended for human consumption. The answers to the USDA's questions are significant because the Disclosure Standard Act exempts from mandatory disclosure genetic modifications obtained without recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques that can otherwise be found in nature.