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This blog post has been updated since its original publication.
On 7 July 2016, the U.S. Senate voted 63-30 to approve a genetically modified organisms (GMO) bill (S. 764) that, if enacted, would preempt state GMO labeling laws by making it a federal requirement that food companies label their products containing GMO ingredients in one of three possible ways: through disclosure on the product package, as a USDA-backed symbol signifying GMO content, or via an electronic code accessible by smartphone. The U.S. House of Representatives will now consider the bill passed by the Senate.
S. 764 amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 by establishing a national disclosure standard for bioengineered foods. If enacted into law, this federal legislation would preempt state GMO labeling laws, such as Vermont’s Act 120, which became effective 1 July 2016, and would require food companies to label products containing GMO ingredients by way of one of three options: through disclosure on the product package, as a USDA-backed symbol placed on the product signifying GMO content, or via an electronic code accessible by smartphone. Before becoming law, the bill must pass the U.S. House of Representatives. The House passed a GMO labeling bill in 2015 for a voluntary GMO labeling measure (HR 1599), but it did not advance beyond the House. Now U.S. Representatives will consider this new bill passed by the U.S. Senate. There is pressure from the food industry and public interest groups for the House to consider the new bill quickly, because the House will recess for the summer on 15 July 2016 until September 2016.
Interested stakeholders should monitor the new Senate bill to see if it passes the House and, ultimately, if it is signed into law by the President. The bill will likely increase the labeling cost of food products and may also impact the consumer perception of GMO foods.
On 29 July 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama signed S. 764 into law, which creates a national labeling requirement for food products made from genetically modified organisms (GMO). The law invalidates a strict mandatory GMO labeling requirement in Vermont, which became effective on 1 July 2016. The new legislation is a compromise between a voluntary labeling law, which was proposed by the Congress in the past, and more explicit on-package disclosure requirements supported by consumer interest groups.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) now has two years to complete rulemaking process under S. 764. Rulemaking is expected be highly contested as different stakeholders will try to influence USDA’s regulatory decisions, such as what the symbol on the food package indicating GMO ingredients should look like; the threshold amount of GMO contents a product must contain to trigger such labeling; and enforcement provisions.
Written by James Lee, 3E Company Sr. Regulatory Analyst for North America