National Biotech Disclosure Law Protects U.S. Food System

On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law a national bioengineered food disclosure standard that sets a uniform national standard, ends the patchwork of different state labeling mandates, and provides consumers greater access to the information they want about the products they purchase. This followed both chambers of Congress passing the legislation by wide bipartisan margins, 63-30 in the Senate and 306-117 in the House of Representatives.

What the National Biotech Disclosure Law Does:

Creates a uniform national standard for GE Ingredient disclosure.

This law provides a uniform national standard for disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients. This ensures that consumers in every state have more access than ever before to the same information regardless of where they live or shop. The law allows GE ingredients to be disclosed by a symbol or text on the package or by scanning an electronic or digital link. This consistent standard means consumers can take advantage of innovative tools such as SmartLabelTM, an innovative initiative that gives consumers digital access to information about GE ingredients and hundreds of other attributes about thousands of their favorite products, online, in store and over the phone. This legislation avoids unfairly stigmatizing the safe use of biotechnology.

Provides consumers with much more information about GMO ingredients.

The law requires disclosure of information on genetically engineered ingredients, and information on food biotechnology can be accessed digitally via tools like SmartLabelTM, which provides a QR code or other electronic link, or on food packages. USDA has been given up to two years to put rules in place for disclosure standard for whether a product contains or  ‘may contain’ genetically engineered ingredients. The rule-making process will include a public notice and comment period.

Harmonizes with National Organic Program.  

The law includes language that ensures consistency between the National Organic Program and the new biotech disclosure provisions. Products that are certified organic by USDA can be labeled as non-GMO.

Protects small business owners.

This solution ensures no undue burdens are placed on America’s small businesses.

Saves farmers, manufacturers and consumers from an inconsistent patchwork of state food labeling laws.

Passage of the bill and its signing into law by President Obama immediately ended the threat of a state-by-state patchwork of different state GMO labeling mandates that threatened our nation’s consumers, farmers, and food companies. This was essential to save our nation’s complex food supply value chain from costs, confusion and chaos that would have hurt family farmers, small businesses and consumers in all 50 states.

Safeguards meat, dairy and similar products.

This law makes clear that meat, poultry, and dairy products are not considered bioengineered simply because they are derived from animals that consumed biotech feed..

Covers more products that contain some meat.

The Vermont state labeling mandate that had gone into effect July 1 (and that is nullified by the federal law) exempted all USDA-regulated meat and poultry products. The national biotech disclosure law exempts items made up completely of meat and poultry (e.g. whole muscle cuts and ground meat) as well as any products where meat or poultry are the predominate ingredient. This ensures protection of the existing preemption for meat and poultry products but avoids consumer confusion over different labels for non-meat products and similar products that contain only a small amount of meat.

Challenges Remain

Over the past several years, “anti-GMO” activists were pushing a variety of state labeling mandates, and in 2014, Vermont became the first such state to enact a GE labeling mandate.  Vermont’s law and others like it being proposed in other states would have resulted in severe consequences for America’s farmers, small businesses and consumers. A complex maze of unnecessary regulations would burden farmers and small businesses, provide customers with inaccurate information, raise food costs and create a stigma around biotech foods.

The Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food was formed to combat this patchwork of state labeling laws and advocate for a uniform, national biotech labeling standard that preempted any state mandates. Ultimately, over 1,100 food and agricultural groups from all 50 states joined together to advocate for this common-sense solution. And in July 2016, we were successful with the passage of the federal bill by a 63-30 vote in the Senate and a 306-117 vote in the House. President Obama signed the bill into law on July 29th to set a national bioengineered food disclosure standard and preempt Vermont and other state laws. This law creates the consistent, non-stigmatizing uniform standard that we’d been advocating for.

The passage of this legislation was a major victory for America’s farmers, food producers and consumers, protecting safe, affordable foods while ensuring consumers have access to information they want. For example, SmartLabelTM is already being utilized by food companies that are striving to provide more information than ever before about the products consumers love.

But, we must stay active to ensure this law is implemented as intended. The national bioengineered food disclosure standard now moves to the rulemaking process overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – where they determine everything from the symbol that can be used on-package to denote the presence of GE ingredients to a definition of what products must be disclosed as being produced using biotechnology.

The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food will remain engaged throughout the rulemaking process to ensure USDA’s proposed rules remain squarely in line with Congressional intent and in a manner that best serves consumers, farmers and food companies.

Activists who reject science in favor of fear remain determined to turn back the clock on agricultural progress. CFSAF won’t let that happen. Check back for more details on how you can stay involved throughout the next step of this process, to ensure America’s food supply remains safe and affordable for America’s families.




We are a broad-based coalition representing the entire American agriculture food supply chain – from farm to fork. We are committed to increasing the public’s understanding about the science and safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and advocating for science-based policies that keep food affordable for every American.

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