Avoiding a government shutdown, Congress passed the $1.1 trillion Omnibus Appropriations bill earlier this month that will fund the government through 2016. The food industry hoped to attach two riders to the bill, one for the repeal of mandatory country of origin (COOL) labeling requirements and the other to prohibit state labeling of genetically modified organisms. Although the GMO labeling rider was left out of the bill, the COOL requirements for a label to be placed on meat packages detailing where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered were repealed.
“We are enormously grateful that lawmakers have included language in the bill to repeal mandatory country of origin labeling for certain meat products,” says Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute. “Our elected leaders recognize the need for the United States to live up to its international trade obligations. This Congressional action is an important step in avoiding the financial harm so many industries would incur if Canada and Mexico initiated the tariffs sanctioned by the WTO’s ruling earlier this month.”
The GMO rider would have blocked states from requiring mandatory labels on products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and derailed the laws already passed by Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts from going into effect. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which pushed for the inclusion of the provision, expressed disappointment with legislators.
“It is unfortunate Congress has failed to take action this year to stop a patchwork of costly and misleading state labeling mandates, an issue of tremendous importance to consumers, farmers, and food and beverage companies,” says Pamela Bailey, GMA president and CEO. “In January, food manufacturers will face exponentially increasing costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling mandate.”
Earlier this month, GMA announced SmartLabel (an alternative to mandatory GMO labeling) that uses scanning technology to direct consumers to information on a product’s ingredients and whether it’s sourced from genetically engineered crops.
The newly passed spending bill also calls for a comprehensive review of the process the National Academy of Medicine used to draft the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and blocks the release or implementation of any part of the guidelines not based on significant scientific agreement. In addition, the bill addresses FDA’s ban on artificial trans fats, declaring partially hydrogenated oils cannot be considered unsafe or adulterated until FDA’s formal phase out starts in June 2018.