As you have likely heard by now, on Friday, July 29, 2016 President Obama signed into law the GMO Labeling bill recently passed by Congress. This law preempts Vermont’s first-of-its-kind GMO Labeling law, which had just gone into effect on July 1, and authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a mandatory disclosure program for “bioengineered” (aka GMO) foods. Now that the law has been enacted, all eyes are on USDA, which has the primary responsibility of implementing the law.
What exactly does the GMO Labeling Law do?
In brief, the law:
- Preempts Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and prohibits any other state or local law from requiring mandatory labeling of food or seeds developed or produced using genetic engineering – or containing genetically engineered foods or seed ingredients;
- Creates a mandatory disclosure requirement for “bioengineered” foods, and directs USDA to develop regulations and standards to carry out this requirement;
- Gives companies the option to choose among label options that include text, a symbol (to be developed by USDA), or an electronic/digital label or link (such as a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone);
- Requires USDA to undertake a feasibility study of QR codes within one year to “identify challenges that may impact whether consumers would have access to the bioengineering disclosure through [this] method”;
- Exempts milk and meat products from animals fed GE-feed from disclosure; and
- Grants USDA authority to audit businesses for compliance, but leaves enforcement to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by making the knowing failure to disclose GMO/GE ingredients a “prohibited act” under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act.
So Now What?
USDA has one year to conduct the QR code feasibility study, and two years to develop the labeling standards and regulations. Both of these processes will also require public input before being finalized.
Given the projected timeline, it’s highly unlikely that USDA could complete the necessary feasibility study and public rulemaking process before the next Administration is in place. They could certainly begin the process though, and thereby get important foundations and building blocks in place for the incoming transition team.
USDA is likely to see thousands upon thousands of comments from stakeholders during these next phases of implementation. By law they are required to consider all comments received, suggesting that a long process is ahead. The agency is also likely to hold public meetings to allow stakeholders the opportunity to submit oral, as well as written, testimony. Given the highly contentious nature of this legislation and the GMO debate in general, we hope to see USDA proceed through this process in as transparent and inclusive a manner as possible.
All of these issues point to a lengthy and involved few years before a final disclosure requirement is in place. And regardless, once the regulations have gone through the public rulemaking process, a legal challenge is highly likely, which could further delay implementation.
Read the full article at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Purchase foods that have been tested for the presence of GMOs.
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