Produce items among those requiring biotech label disclosure


Produce items among those requiring biotech label disclosure

Tom Karst    

Photo: Arctic apple packaging includes a QR code link to a website describing how the apple was developed. (Okanagan Specialty Fruits )

A QR code label is one option available to marketers to let consumers know whether fresh produce and other food has been created using biotechnology.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published the disclosure standard for bioengineered foods, spelling out label requirements for suppliers, importers and retailers.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law, passed by Congress in July of 2016, directed USDA to establish a national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are or may be bioengineered. More than 14,000 comments were submitted on the plan.

The final standard defines bioengineered foods as those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature. 

There are several disclosure options for suppliers, including text, symbol, electronic or digital links, and/or text message. Additional options such as a phone number or web address are available to small food manufacturers or for small packages, according to the USDA.

The standard doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020, except for small food manufacturers, whose implementation date is Jan. 1, 2021. The USDA said the mandatory compliance date is Jan. 1, 2022.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service developed an extensive list of bioengineered foods for which regulated entities must maintain records, according to the release. The list includes several fruits and vegetables.

Arctic apples

Bioengineered (BE) apples are in commercial production only in the U.S., but have been approved for commercial production in Canada. No trees have been planted there yet, according to the USDA. 

As of October 2017, Okanagan Specialty Fruits had planted 250 acres of the Arctic-branded apples, and expected to reach 1,400 acres by 2019, according to the USDA. Approved varieties are golden delicious, granny smith and fuji.

Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, said he welcomes the USDA’s disclosure standard.
“Nonbrowning Arctic apples are proudly developed through biotechnology and transparent communication about this fact has always been an important initiative for OSF,” he said. 

“Our fresh-sliced Arctic apple packaging already speaks to our product being developed through biotechnology, shares a QR SmartLabel code (, and provides consumers a toll-free number and our web address so they can easily learn even more about Arctic apples and the science behind them.”



Because all BE sweet corn was developed by breeding with BE field corn, the (bioengineering) events are the same. 
BE sweet corn is produced commercially in Canada and the U.S. Production estimates vary from 10% to 25% in the U.S., according to the USDA.



BE eggplant (BARI Bt Begun varieties) is commercially produced only in Bangladesh, but USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service phytosanitary rules prevent fresh eggplant exports from Bangladesh into the U.S.



Papaya (ringspot virus-resistant varieties): China and the U.S. are the only producers of BE papaya. 
Papaya produced in the U.S. should be presumed to be BE papaya, the USDA said. For phytosanitary reasons, USDA-APHIS does not admit fresh papaya fruit into the U.S. from China.


Pink-flesh pineapples

The USDA said production of BE pineapple with pink flesh has begun in Costa Rica, with reports that 60 acres were planted in 2017. However, it is not available for sale in the U.S., according to the USDA.



The USDA said BE potatoes are in commercial production in the U.S. and Canada, with production estimated at 7,400 acres in the U.S. in 2017. The USDA said BE potato versions have been developed for Atlantic, Ranger Russet and Russet Burbanks. 
All other potato cultivars may be presumed to be non-BE potatoes. Some fresh market BE potatoes are sold under the trade name White Russet. 

In a statement, the J.R. Simplot Company - developers of the Innate genetically engineered potato  - said the company supports efforts to improve transparency and provide standardization to help people get information about their food and how it is produced.

"We are committed to making sure consumers can get answers to their questions so that they can make informed decisions and will continue to comply with all regulatory requirements, including those from the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard," the company said in the statement.