By Benjamin Husch
The Senate has approved a bill requiring mandatory labeling of certain bioengineered products while also pre-empting any existing or future state labeling requirements.
S. 764 was approved 65-32 on Thursday. The bill is the result of months of negotiations between Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) , following the failure earlier this spring of Sen Roberts’ bill that included a voluntary labeling system.
Specifically, S. 764 provides a number of methods to comply with the mandatory labeling requirement, including on package labeling, a symbol indicating the presence of GMOs or a type of electronic signature, such as QR code, that would link to the required information.
However, the bill tasks the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with developing the formal rule for mandatory labeling that would also include what exact products would have to comply within two years of the bill’s enactment.
The bill does note that the mandatory requirement would not apply to animal products in which the animal was fed bioengineered products. USDA would be charged in its rulemaking with determining at what level the requirement would come into effect for those food products that include some animal products.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives. In 2015, the House passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 which would provide the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the discretionary power to require genetically engineered food to be labeled as such if they determine the genetically engineered food was materially different from non-modified food and the labeling was necessary to protect public health and welfare.
This House bill also contained a pre-emption clause stating that any future or past state law on the subject would be invalid if it is not identical to the federal law.
Ben Husch is the director of NCSL's Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee.