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President Obama Signs Bill Creating National System for Labeling Biotech Foods

August 2, 2016

A bill that would create a national system for labeling foods produced using biotechnology has officially become law, preempting any state or local mandates from being implemented, and laying the groundwork for federal rules to provide information to consumers about foods containing biotech ingredients.

Last Friday, President Barack Obama signed S. 764, ending a more than two-year endeavor by the food and agriculture industry to find a workable solution to an issue that has affected stakeholders throughout the food supply chain.  NMPF was heavily involved in the effort to build support for an effective national labeling system that provides factual information and avoids stigmatizing terminology – a goal achieved through this new law.  President Obama’s signature officially halts a Vermont law that would have not only created its own statewide labeling system, but also would have forced national food companies to comply with its mandate. NMPF has long said that the Vermont law would lead to a confusing and costly patchwork of different state policies.

Earlier in July, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing a bill directing USDA to create federal standards for labeling biotech foods. The new law provides that foods containing ingredients made with biotechnology convey this information through one of three alternatives: using a QR code, through text or a symbol on the package, or a link to a website where consumers can go for more information.

Specific to the dairy sector, the law makes clear that milk and meat from animals that consume feed grown from biotech seeds are not subject to the labeling disclosure provisions because the feed does not affect the milk or meat. NMPF advocated strongly for this provision throughout the legislative process.

The bill passed the House on July 14 with wide bipartisan support. That action came after a vote July 7 in the Senate, following months of negotiating a compromise that would please both parties. Through the strong leadership of Sens. Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow of the Senate Agriculture Committee, lawmakers were able to reach an agreement just days before the Vermont law was set to go into effect.

“The biotech food labeling bill is a resounding rejection of activists who have been working for years to undermine consumers’ understanding of the safety of food biotechnology,” NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern said following the House decision.

The issue now moves into the regulatory arena. The Department of Agriculture will begin the rulemaking process, including drafting rules for how the bill will be implemented in the marketplace, and holding an open comment period. NMPF will remain engaged throughout the process, which could take until at least 2018.