GMO labeling bill stops 50-state patchwork that began in Vermont

GMO labeling bill stops 50-state patchwork that began in Vermont

President Barack Obama has signed into law a Farm Bureau-supported measure that replaces a patchwork of state GMO labeling laws with a uniform, national disclosure system that will provide balanced, accurate information to consumers.

“We are pleased that Congress and the administration have moved swiftly to prevent consumer confusion and protect agricultural innovation,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.

It is based on a mandatory disclosure mechanism that requires food companies to provide information through an on-package statement, symbol or some other means of electronic disclosure abiding by standards developed and regulated by USDA. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has one year to study consumer access to digitally disclosed information and two years to finalize a rule implementing the law.

Other key elements of the new law, which was signed July 29:

  • Federal preemption effective date of enactment that protects interstate commerce and prevents state-by-state labeling laws.
  • USDA will direct formal rulemaking to set national definitions and standards for the labeling of products; prohibits the use of disparaging information relative to biotechnology.
  • Narrow definition of bioengineering for labeling purposes aimed at protecting new breeding techniques.
  • Food manufacturers defined by AMS as “very small” are exempt from the disclosure requirement.
  • Meat and dairy products would not be considered GMO products just because the animals were fed GMO feed, and products such as soup in which meat is the lead ingredient would be exempt. However, animals that are genetically engineered would fall under the requirements.
  • USDA would have no authority to recall products that do not comply with the labeling requirements, and there would be no federal penalties for violations. States, however, could impose fines for violations of the standards under state consumer protection rules.
  • Products that are certified organic by USDA could be labeled as non-GMO.

AMS has established a website for the new biotech program.