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Senators Propose National Mandatory GMO Food Labeling Standard

Friday, July 01, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

A recent bipartisan agreement between two key senators would establish the first mandatory federal label for food products containing genetically modified organisms. The proposal, which does not appear to have yet been formally introduced but could be taken up on the Senate floor during the week of July 4, aims to counter a Vermont GMO labeling law set to take effect July 1 and the potential proliferation of additional and varying state-level standards.

According to a press release from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who negotiated the agreement with Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the proposed legislation includes the following provisions.

- immediately prohibits states or other entities from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered

- the U.S. Department of Agriculture would establish through rulemaking a uniform national disclosure standard for human food that is or may be bioengineered

- provides several options for complying with the mandatory disclosure requirement, including text on package, a symbol, or a link to a website (QR code or similar technology)

- small food manufacturers would be allowed to use websites or telephone numbers to satisfy disclosure requirements

- foods where meat, poultry and egg products are the main ingredient would be exempted, as would very small manufacturers and restaurants

- USDA would be prohibited from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed  

The proposal has been met with both approval and criticism. The National Milk Producers Federation called the proposal a “sound and workable approach that will reaffirm the federal government’s role in food labeling policy and prevent the chaotic mess that would arise from leaving this issue to the whims of 50 different states.” The American Farm Bureau Federation said that while it has no official position yet on this proposal it “continues to oppose mandatory food labels that are not necessary for health or safety reasons” and thus have “significant potential to contribute to confusion and unnecessary alarm.” Food and Water Watch asserted that the proposal “fails to provide any meaningful federal labeling requirement” and represents “a rollback of democracy at the behest of the world’s largest agribusiness and biotech corporations.”

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