Receiving both praise and criticism, the Senate Agricultural Committee reached a bipartisan agreement last week, establishing a national labeling requirement for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. Last year, in an attempt to preempt state-level efforts to create a mandatory labeling law, the House passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, making GMO labels voluntary. The measure had been stalled in the Senate since last year. Since then, Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have attempted to work out a compromise.
The new agreement would create a national labeling standard for packaged foods, prohibiting states or other entities from mandating labels for foods that contain GMOs. Under the law, companies would be required to disclose GMO use through a text label, a symbol or a link to a website via technology such as a QR code.
Foods in which meat, poultry or egg products are the main ingredients are exempted. The legislation also prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed.
The deal comes one week before Vermont’s GMO labeling law goes into effect. The Vermont law requires food manufacturers to include a label on certain products containing genetically engineered ingredients, notifying consumers that the products are or may be “produced with genetic engineering.” The law also prohibits manufacturers from using the word “natural” or similar words to describe these products.
The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association praised the deal, calling it a “commonsense solution for consumers, farmers and businesses,” and advocated the use of its SmartLabel technology released last year. With SmartLabel consumers can use a smartphone to scan a barcode or QR code while shopping to reach page containing manufacturer-provided information about a product’s ingredients or attributes.
But not everyone is in love with the new deal. Advocacy group Food and Water Watch says the compromise, which is more lenient than the Vermont law scheduled to go into effect, is terrible for consumers. “The bill will preempt state laws that require on-package GMO labeling in exchange for a website URL, a QR code, a symbol or a phone number on the package that will send shoppers on a scavenger hunt to figure out what GMOs might be in their food,” the group says. “That’s not real GMO labeling, and that’s not what we need.”
A copy of the agreement can be found here.