In 2014, Vermont became the first state to pass a standalone mandatory GMO labeling law, which will go into effect July 2016. Connecticut and Maine have also passed GMO labeling laws that will go into effect once neighboring states pass similar laws. Over 30 states have introduced similar GMO labeling legislation in the past three years. In response to these state efforts, legislation intended to preempt mandatory labeling at the state and federal level – dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act - was passed by the House of Representatives in July 2015. Similar legislation was defeated in the Senate in March 2016.
On July 7, 2016, the Senate passed compromise legislation introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that would preempt state labeling laws but create a national, mandatory GMO labeling standard for all GMO foods. The Roberts-Stabenow bill was passed by the House of Representatives on July 14 and signed into law (Pub. Law 114-216) by President Obama on July 29, 2016.
Specifically, the Roberts-Stabenow compromise covers the following:
- Requires mandatory, national GMO labeling and preempts state GMO labeling laws.
- Requires USDA finalized GMO labeling rules within 2 years of enactment.
- Covers all GMO foods regulated by FDA and many foods regulated by USDA would have to include a disclosure.
- The products of animals fed GMO feed would not have to include a disclosure. At the same time, such products cannot make “non-GMO” claims.
- According to USDA, all food ingredients derived from genetic engineering, including oils and sugars, will include a disclosure.
- USDA will determine the GMO threshold (e.g. 0.9%) below which foods do not have include a disclosure.
- Companies could disclose through three option: words on the package; a symbol to be developed by USDA; or, by a QR code or similar digital disclosure.
- A QR code would have to be accompanied by the words “Scan here for more food information” and by a toll-free number.
- A QR code will only required on GMO foods, must be big enough to be scanned, and the GMO disclosure must be prominent and on the first product information page.
- Prohibits manufacturers from collecting information on consumers.
- USDA will conduct a study within one year and require disclosure options for consumers who do not have smartphones.
- Exemptions are permitted for small and very small packages and for small companies.
- Ensure consistency with the National Organic Program and permit organic foods to make “non-GMO” claims.
- Subjects manufacturers to state and private litigation if manufacturers fail to make a required disclosure, and preserves FDA’s food labeling enforcement authorities.
Click here to see a comparison of the Roberts-Stabenow compromise with the Senate version of the DARK Act, the House-passed DARK Act and Vermont’s Act 120.