Washington — On Friday, July 29, President Barack Obama signed into law Senate Bill 764.
The new piece of legislation instructs the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national bioengineered food disclosure standard within the next two years, according to the White House in a brief statement on the bill’s signage and the text of the law itself.
According to the NCA it accomplishes two main objectives for the candy and snack industries: It prevents the Vermont GMO labeling law from taking effect, thus setting the stage for a unified national standard, and it responsibly addresses the growing issue of the use of GE ingredients.
“The president’s signature is the culmination of the efforts of many food manufacturers and associations that identified the risk posed to the food industry by the growing patchwork of independent state labeling laws,” wrote Liz Clark, NCA’s vice-president of government affairs, in a statement to its members.
Large companies will be given two options to address GMO labeling during the next two years until the secretary develops a national standard. Manufacturers can either provide an on-pack text or symbol statement disclosing the existence of genetically modified ingredients, or simply print a QR code that consumers can scan with a smartphone that will redirect them to a website with more information. “Smaller companies” — a designation that has not been specifically determined yet — will also be given the option of printing a URL to a website or phone number.
These are the rules for now, but they are just a placeholder until Congress, the USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture can establish a “national GMO labeling standard,” according to NCA.
“We anticipate that USDA will engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking to develop the exact details of the labeling requirements,” Clark wrote, noting the NCA will submit comments relevant to its members during said process. “USDA will determine the exact language and format of disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients, as well as exemptions and requirements for small packages.”
In response to a successful WhiteHouse.gov petition, the Obama administration responded to concerns that the QR codes and websites would not provide sufficient access to children, seniors and low-income families that might not own a cell phone. To address those concerns the law calls on the USDA to conduct a study to determine the effectiveness of electronic disclosures and to come up with alternative options.
Meanwhile, manufacturers no longer have to worry about different state laws that would have made contradictory laws, which has been a big focus of the NCA this past year.