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Published June 21, 2013, 02:07 PM

US approves label for nonGMO products

The Agriculture Department has approved a label for meat and liquid egg products that includes a claim about the absence of genetically engineered products.

By: Stephanie Strom , New York Times New Service

The Agriculture Department has approved a label for meat and liquid egg products that includes a claim about the absence of genetically engineered products.

It is the first time that the department, which regulates meat and poultry processing, has approved a non-GMO label claim, which attests that meat certified by the Non-GMO Project came from animals that never ate feed containing genetically engineered ingredients like corn, soy and alfalfa.

The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service “allows companies to demonstrate on their labels that they meet a third-party certifying organization’s standards, provided that the third-party organization and the company can show that the claims are truthful, accurate and not misleading,” Cathy Cochran, a USDA spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Cochran said the approval for labeling meats did not signal “any new policy regarding non-GE or non-GMO products.”

Labeling foods to indicate the absence or presence of genetically engineered ingredients is one of the most contentious issues in the food business today, with about two dozen states mulling labeling requirements and the biotech industry fighting back with intense lobbying.

More and more companies, however, are voluntarily labeling their products, including most recently Chipotle, the thriving restaurant chain, which now points out items containing genetically engineered ingredients on its online menu.

Meat from animals that eat non-GMO feed, like certified organic meats, is highly prized by some consumers, but claims made by meat labels must be approved by the USDA. When a new company called Mindful Meats submitted a label last fall that included the Non-GMO Project’s certification seal, the department rejected it.

“It turned out that the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service had not yet created a rule for handling non-GMO claims for meat and poultry products, so they just denied us,” said Claire Herminjard, founder and chief executive of Mindful Meats, which makes meat products from organic dairy cows.

Herminjard learned that two other companies, Hidden Villa Ranch, and Pitman Farms, which produces Mary’s Chicken, also wanted to put a non-GMO label on their products, so they banded together to petition the USDA.

The USDA vetted the Non-GMO Project’s standards, requirements and auditing processes before giving its approval. “It has to approve every single label that goes out into commerce, but this sets a precedent for other meat and poultry companies that want to label this way,” Herminjard said.

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