USDA non-GM labeling project : the implication to the sustainable global food governance

– Par Seunghye Wang

Last June 2013, the USA Agriculture Department has approved, for the first time in USA agricultural policy history, a label for meat and liquid egg products that includes a claim for the absence of genetically engineered products.

This new inducible policy, in spite of its spontaneous – voluntary approach, is supposed to give a positive impact on the sustainable global food governance.

Although it has not a mandatory or imperative force from a normative perspective, it can give reasonable effects on the food suppliers’ economic policy decision. Because nowadays most of leading food suppliers are trying to meet the consumers’ health-friendly preferences while offering diversified quality-based food products.

The USA non-GMO label claim, “non-GMO” label, certifies that the labeled meats and liquid egg products are came from livestock animals that never ate any feed which contains genetically modified or engineered ingredients such as soy, corn, alfalfa, etc.

This ‘non-GMO’ label deals with a credence food quality*, in other words, this ‘non-GMO’ is an additional quality information, without which consumers cannot evaluate the real nature of ingredients used for certain final product.

This new project of USDA is based on a third-party certifying organization’s standards(Non-GMO Project), which means that the USDA would allow companies to demonstrate on their labels that they meet a third-party certifying organization’s standards. This is why USDA spokeswoman said that the approval for ‘non-GMO’ labeling did not signal “any new policy regarding non-GE or non-GMO products.”

Even if the approval for ‘non-GMO’ labeling does not directly aim to change the USA GMO policy scheme, however, the third-party certifying system is also one of the significant building blocks of food regulatory governance system. Especially when the public standards cannot provide sufficient scope for product differentiation about the quality attributes, the third-party certifying system complements the public food regulatory system**.

In the region of European Union, since 18 April 2004, new regulations for the labeling of genetically modified foods and feed came into effect (Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 concerning the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and the traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms and amending Directive 2001/18/EC). With adopting this regulation, EU has been turned from the proof-based GMO labeling policy (Compliance to these rules could be directly determined by checking the final products themselves ; this enforceability helped protect consumers against fraud) to the process-oriented one (All food products that make direct use of GMOs at any point in their production are subjected to labelling requirements, regardless of whether or not GM content is detectable in the end product).

 Although this regulation does not cover the non-GMO labeling about which the member states have not yet consented or harmonized, there exists among the member states ‘non-GMO label’ rules, some of which were promulgated officially, like in Germany (Ohne GenTechnik‘, 2008) or in France (‘sans OGM’, 2012),and others put into practice privately, like in UK(Cert ID Non-GMO Standard).

This new labeling policy of USA, along with the European member states’ labeling programmes, is to provide food consumers with the most robust quality information. Evidently it will be able to contribute to the sustainable global food governance.

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*Credence quality’ means a quality that people cannot figure out by sensual perception(freshness or taste); such as pesticide residues, gmo ingredients, which could be identified by laboratory test or experiment.
**Albersmeier, F., et al., « The reliability of third-party certification in the food chain: from checklists to risk-oriented auditing », Food Control, 20, 2009, pp.927-935.

 

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