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President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, which would nullify Vermont’s mandatory GMO-labeling law.
The latest campaign to establish a federal GMO-labeling law appears to be nearing its conclusion. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act (S. 764) by a comfortable margin, less than a week after the bill cleared the Senate. If President Obama signs the bill, as he has signaled he intends to, the legislation would nullify Vermont’s mandatory GMO-labeling law and preempt any other similar state-led efforts.
Many food industry groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), have celebrated the legislation as a flexible and non-invasive solution to GMO labeling. But critics of the bill, including anti-GMO activists and consumer groups, say it will prevent transparency by allowing companies to direct consumers online for GMO disclaimers, rather than mandating disclaimers on actual product packaging.
If the legislation becomes law, food manufacturers would have three options for the mandatory disclosure of genetically modified ingredients: on-package text, an on-package symbol, or an on-package digital code that directs users online for more information. Under the online option, companies would not be required to include the term “GMO” anywhere on the physical food label. All that would be required is a QR code accompanied by text that reads, “Scan here for more information.”
Although the House passed a different, voluntary GMO-labeling bill in 2015 (HR 1599), that legislation stalled in the Senate earlier this year. But despite favoring a voluntary approach to GMO-labeling laws in the past, the House passed the new, mandatory labeling bill by an even greater margin than its previous voluntary labeling bill. The Biotech Labeling Solutions Act cleared the House today in a 306–117 vote.
With Obama expected to sign the bill soon, it looks like food companies won’t have to worry about the long-feared “patchwork” of different state GMO-labeling laws. Vermont’s mandatory GMO-labeling law, which is considerably stricter than S. 764, went into effect on July 1 but enforcement isn’t scheduled to begin until next year. Barring any surprise delays, the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act will likely nullify Vermont’s law before then. And once the bill is signed into law, USDA will have two years to establish more specific GMO-disclosure standards.
Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), hailed the news as a “win-win for every American family in every state.”
“The legislation ensures that consumers get more information about genetically engineered ingredients, prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates, and provides the same labeling rules to shoppers regardless of where they live or shop,” Bailey said. “It is the right solution to increase disclosure of information that consumers are seeking without stigmatizing a safe technology that feeds a hungry and growing world.”
Opponents of the legislation, including the consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know, urged Obama to veto the legislation.
“This bill is a sweetheart deal for the food and agricultural industries, who want to keep consumers guessing about the contents of their food,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “There are legitimate questions about the health and environmental risks of genetically engineered crops, including the glyphosate herbicide that many are doused with.”
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