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Congress Greenlights National Mandatory GMO Food Labelling Standard

The House and Senate have approved legislation (S. 764) that would establish the first mandatory federal label for food products containing genetically modified organisms. Congressional action on the bill was accelerated in light of the 1 July effective date of a Vermont GMO labelling law and the potential for proliferation of additional and varying state-level standards.

S. 764 would prohibit states or other entities from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be required to establish within two years through rulemaking a uniform national disclosure standard for human food that is or may be bioengineered. This standard would include several options for compliance, including text on package, a symbol, or a link to a website (QR code or similar technology). Foods in which meat, poultry and egg products are the main ingredient would be exempted, as would very small manufacturers and restaurants. In addition, USDA would be prohibited from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed.

The Washington, D.C.-based consumer and environmental advocacy group Center for Food Safety contends that the legislation will exempt “major portions of current and future GMO foods from labelling” and represents a “gross violation of the sovereignty of numerous states” by pre-empting the GMO labelling laws enacted in Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Alaska. While some lawmakers are urging President Obama to veto the legislation, the president is expected to sign the bill into law.

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