The U.S Congress has passed legislation (S.764) requiring food and
beverage manufacturers to disclose the use of ingredients made with
genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Crafted by U.S. Sens. Pat
Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and backed by the
Organic Trade Association (OTA), the bill defines bioengineered foods
as those intended for human consumption that contain genetic material
“modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
techniques” and “for which the modification could not otherwise be
obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

If signed by President Barack Obama (D) as expected, the legislation
would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish within two years a
mandatory standard for the disclosure of GMO ingredients in applicable
products by “text, symbol, or electronic or digital link” such as a QR code,
excluding URLs not embedded in the link. The new rules would also
allow certified organic products bear “non-GMO” labels while reaffirming
the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) “certified organic as the
gold standard for transparency and non-GMO status,” according to a July
14, 2016, OTA press release.

Meanwhile, the legislative compromise has garnered both praise and
condemnation from consumer groups that originally backed the measure.
In particular, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has registered
disappointment with the final provisions even as it lauded Stabenow’s
work on the bill. “While the Roberts-Stabenow bill imposes a federal
mandate to label genetically engineered food, it lacks many elements of
the national GMO labeling system that EWG has fought for at the state
and federal levels,” EWG said. “Many of our concerns center around
the discretion the legislation gives the Department of Agriculture. In
particular, the USDA may define – potentially too narrowly – the types
of biotechnologies that will be subject to the labeling requirement.
The USDA will also establish the threshold amount of GMO-derived
ingredients that will mandate labeling. The department is also given
discretion to determine how to hold companies accountable if they fail to
label.” See NPR, July 14, 2015; EWG Press Release, July 8, 2016.


Issue 611

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.