Congress Passes GMO/Biotech Legislation to Establish One National Disclosure Standard

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Congress Passes GMO/Biotech Legislation to Establish One National Disclosure Standard

By Jennifer Hatcher, Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, FMI - 07/19/2016

After months of discussions, meetings, fly-ins, phone calls, grassroots letters and policy debates, lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate passed legislation that establishes a single national standard for the disclosure of food products that contain bioengineered ingredients and strong preemption to prevent the enactment of any differing standards through legislation or ballot initiatives in states across the country.

In a world void of bipartisan activity in the face of a heated Presidential, Senate and Congressional campaign season, the solid bipartisan, bicameral passage of the Biotech Labeling Act was a real coup (of the successful type)! Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) crafted the legislation, designed to deliver strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate chambers. FMI worked closely with both Senators as well as House leaders on both sides of the aisle. The bill was sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature. FMI and many other organizations strongly supported the legislative efforts to establish a single federal GMO labeling standard with federal preemption to avoid a patchwork of state and local labeling requirements as seen in Vermont and a way to more accurately present customers the information they want about a product. The bill requires disclosure of bioengineered ingredients in the form of text, a symbol, or an electronic digital link, such as a QR code — allowing retailers to provide more information and context as well as consistency.

How did we get here?

The issue of GMO labeling has gone through many phases over the past few years before this recent legislative victory, and our industry played a significant role in moving the legislation across the finish line. The Senate vote was bipartisan and carried the support of a broad range of ideologies across the political spectrum, but reaching the Senate’s 60-vote threshold these days is never a guarantee; each and every vote in support of the bill was a victory. The active participation of our members, our coalition partners and other food industry stakeholders made this vote possible.

Implementation

The passage of the legislation was a significant achievement after months of hard work, but the signing of the bill into law is only the beginning of the process. The federal preemption became effective once the president signed the bill, but the disclosure standards will take months to be established. The legislation directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish the bioengineered labeling disclosure standard within two years from the date of enactment, among others, which means the rulemaking process will be getting started over the next few months. With the installation of a new administration, the exact timing of this process is a little uncertain, but FMI will be working with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and his staff to better understand the current administration’s framework for the rulemaking process so that the industry will be well-versed in what to expect and the types of data and information we may want to begin gathering. So don’t be surprised if we reach out to you in a few months for information to help in the USDA rulemaking process.

Thank Yous All Around

The passage of the biotechnology labeling legislation was truly the group effort of so many individuals, organizations, lawmakers and just about every type of stakeholder along the way. We thank all of your companies for participating in the legislative process on a weekly and often daily basis. FMI’s advocacy efforts are only as strong as the reputation of our members, the work you do in your communities, and the letters and stories you share provide a strong and supportive message that policymakers can understand. Thank you and congratulations!