Biotech Disclosure Law

National Biotech Disclosure Law Protects U.S. Food System

On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law a national bioengineered food disclosure standard (P.L. 114-216) that sets a uniform national standard, ends the patchwork of different state labeling mandates, and provides consumers greater access to the information they want about the products they purchase. The bill signing was preceded by a strong showing of bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, which passed the legislation by wide margins, 63-30 in the Senate and 306-117 in the House of Representatives.

What the National Biotech Disclosure Law Does:

Creates a uniform national standard for GMO disclosure.
This law provides a uniform national standard for disclosure of GMO food ingredients. This ensures that consumers in every state have more access than ever before to the same information regardless of where they live or shop. The law allows GMO ingredients to be disclosed by a symbol or text on the package or by scanning an electronic or digital link. This consistent standard means consumers can take advantage of tools such as SmartLabelTM, an innovative initiative that gives consumers digital access to information about GMOs and hundreds of other attributes for thousands of their favorite products, online, in store and over the phone. This law avoids unfairly stigmatizing safe GM technology.

Provides consumers with much more information about GMO ingredients.
The law requires disclosure of information on genetically engineered ingredients, and the GMO information can be accessed digitally via tools like SmartLabelTM, which provides a QR code or other electronic link, or on food packages. USDA has been given up to two years to put rules in place for disclosure standard for whether a product contains or ‘may contain’ GMOs. The rule-making process will include a public notice and comment period.

Harmonizes with National Organic Program.  
The law includes language that ensures consistency between the National Organic Program and the new GMO disclosure provisions. Products that are certified organic by USDA can be labeled as non-GMO.

Protects small business owners.
This solution ensures no undue burdens are placed on America’s small businesses, which have additional disclosure options and a longer compliance window.

Saves farmers, manufacturers and consumers from an inconsistent patchwork of state food labeling laws.
Passage of the bill and its signing into law by President Obama immediately ended the threat of a state-by-state patchwork of different state GMO labeling mandates that threatened our nation’s consumers, farmers, and food companies. National uniformity was essential to save our nation’s complex food supply value chain from costs, confusion and chaos that would have hurt family farmers, small businesses and consumers in all 50 states.

Safeguards meat, dairy and similar products.
This law makes clear that meat, poultry, and dairy products are not considered GMO simply because they are derived from animals that consumed biotech feed.

Covers more products that contain some meat.
The Vermont state labeling mandate that had gone into effect July 1 (and that is nullified by the federal law) exempted all USDA-regulated meat and poultry products. The national biotech disclosure law exempts items made up completely of meat and poultry (e.g. whole muscle cuts and ground meat) as well as any products where meat or poultry are the predominant ingredient. This provision ensures protection of the existing preemption for meat and poultry products but avoids consumer confusion over different labels for non-meat products and similar products that contain only a small amount of meat.

Challenges Remain
Over the past several years, anti-GMO activists were pushing a variety of state labeling mandates, and in 2014, Vermont became the first such state to enact a GMO labeling mandate.  Vermont’s law and others like it being proposed in other states would have resulted in severe consequences for America’s farmers, small businesses and consumers. A complex maze of unnecessary regulations would burden farmers and small businesses, provide customers with inaccurate information, raise food costs and create a stigma around GMOs.

The passage of this legislation was a major victory for America’s farmers, food producers and consumers, protecting safe, affordable foods while ensuring consumers have access to information they want. For example, SmartLabelTM is already being utilized by food companies that are striving to provide more information than ever before about the products consumers love.

But, we must stay active to ensure this law is implemented as intended. The national bioengineered food disclosure standard now moves to the rulemaking process overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – where they will determine everything from the symbol that can be used on-package to denote the presence of GMOs to a definition of what products must be disclosed as being made with biotechnology.

GMA will remain engaged throughout the rulemaking process to ensure USDA’s proposed rules remain squarely in line with Congressional intent and in a manner that best serves consumers, farmers and food companies.