According to a May 1 letter to USDA employees, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency has verified its first non-GMO claim under the Process Verified program, Supermarket News reported Friday.
The Process Verified program allows USDA's Ag Marketing Service to act as a third party which certifies age, source, feeding practices, or other raising and processing claims made by marketers, according to the agency.
Products can then be marketed as "USDA Process Verified" with use of the "USDA Process Verified" shield and term.
USDA has not established standards for the non-GMO claim, but instead it "verifies that a producer or stakeholder is meeting its own standards when making a claim," the SN report said.
"Companies come to us and provide us with their claim or their standard and say we want you to verify that we're meeting our own claim and standard," USDA AMS spokesperson Sam Jones-Ellard told SN, "so we go to the company and do audits and inspections and we verify that that company is meeting their own established claim or standard."
According to the Non-GMO project, some confusion has surfaced about the letter. "Today’s news is that for the first time a company has sought the USDA’s Process Verified label in connection with its non-GMO claim," the group wrote in comment on the issue. "The USDA has NOT created its own non-GMO standard or label. Rather, as part of the existing AMS PVP, it has signed off on one company’s own non-GMO practices.
"There is no transparency as to what these practices are, and they are not based on a third party standard," said the group, which provides a verification program for non-GMO products under the "Non GMO Project verified" seal.
To date, the Non-GMO Project has verified more than 31,000 products, it said.
"Our summary of today’s buzz about the AMS Process Verified claim is that more than reflecting any sort of earth shattering development, it really is a testament to the nation’s growing focus on the GMO issue," the group continued.
The discussion comes as Vermont, the first state to approve mandatory GMO labels, is embroiled in a GMO labeling lawsuit. Some grocery and food groups fear the label will bring added costs along the production chain, while advocates suggest it allows consumers the "right to know" their food.
A national GMO labeling bill, meanwhile, has been in the works since last year. The bill would bypass states' attempts at creating individual labeling standards and includes details on a certification for non-bioengineered foods and USDA-accredited non-GMO certification process.
Continue reading the Supermarket News report, USDA verifies first non-GMO claim