Leaders of leading food industry trade associations vigorously applauded President Obama signing into law a bill that creates a national labeling standard for food products made with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The Roberts-Stabenow Biotech Labeling Act, introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), pre-empts Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law that took effect earlier this month. With the bill now the law of the land, most food products will be required to carry a text label, symbol or QR code indicating whether they contain GMOs.
The bill, which received fast-track approval in the Senate on July 7, and in the House on July 14, was heralded by Roberts as "the most important farm legislation in 20 years." The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already formed a working group to write rules needed to implement the legislation, and manufacturers will have two years before they have to include the labeling.
The president’s signing brought about strong praise from several industry associations, including the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which said the law opens “a new era for transparency in ingredient information for consumers.”
Pamela G. Bailey, GMA's president and CEO, said the president’s signing of the legislation "also stops, effective immediately, Vermont’s mandatory on-package labeling law that went into effect July 1 and has already left consumers in the state with fewer products on shelves and higher compliance costs for small businesses."
Food Marketing Institute (FMI) is also confident the legislation will help circumvent further consumer confusion on the already misunderstood and complex topic of GMOs.
“I am grateful lthat this law will help avoid further disruption in the interstate commerce of food products,” said Leslie Sarasin, FMI's president and CEO, “and I am encouraged that this law allows our industry to move beyond the traditional label and toward exploration of new and unprecedented ways of providing our customers with the information they need in making the wisest food choices for themselves and their families. In addition to the president’s role in signing it into law, we are most appreciative of the part U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his team played during critical times in the legislative history of this law, and will now play in implementation.”
The National Grocers Association (NGA), of Arlington, Va., noted its plans to continue working on behalf of the independent supermarket industry throughout the rulemaking process at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure implementation of the law is aligned with congressional intent.
“NGA is proud to have been a part of the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, a coalition that brought together over 1,100 entities that represent our nation’s food supply system, to advocate for a commonsense solution for the confusing and harmful patchwork of state national labeling disclosure laws,” said Peter J. Larkin, NGA president and CEO.
The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) was also pleased by the President signing the bill into law.
“We are happy to see this bill signed into law because it is important to have a labeling system in place for genetically engineered foods that doesn't interfere with commerce," noted PMA's Chief Science & Technology Officer Bob Whitaker. "A patchwork of 50 or more laws would certainly interfere with commerce."
However, Whitaker cautioned, “The work isn't over yet. There's still the rulemaking process which will take approximately 18-24 months. PMA will certainly be participating in that rulemaking process to make sure that the produce industry's voice is heard. We are also glad to now have a path forward to label these foods," he continued, "because in the years ahead we will be challenged to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to an every growing world population; we will want to have access to these technologies to help us meet that challenge.”
The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) was among the other industry associations to applaud the news.
"We are grateful to President Obama for swiftly signing into law a bill that is vital for consumers and food manufacturers," said Clay Hough, IDFA's SVP and legal counsel. "The new federal law explicitly pre-empts state GMO labeling laws, including Vermont's, and will bring much-needed consistency to the marketplace."