President Barack Obama has signed a controversial bill into law requiring the labeling of genetically modified ingredients, The Associated Press reports. The legislation requires that companies include labels on packaging for food containing GMO ingredients and preempts laws in states like Vermont with individual requirements.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will have two years to develop the rules. Under the new law, companies will be required to disclose genetically modified ingredients through text labels, symbols, or scannable QR codes. The new labeling standard is unprecedented in the United States where food companies and the agriculture industry have long fought to prevent labels that they argue mislead consumers with bad science. Proponents of the bill say that the federal law will help streamline regulations and avoid a complex web of individual state regulations.
The new federal labeling law will supercede strict GMO regulations that recently went into effect in Vermont. Critics of the national law — including Senator Bernie Sanders — say the standards don’t go far enough. Not all consumers, they argue, have access to QR code-reading technology. The law has also been accused of lacking teeth, with few or no penalties for companies that violate the labeling standards.
The F.D.A. has also spoken out against the law, arguing that the definition of "bioengineering" in the bill is too narrow and would not apply to many foods that come from genetically engineered sources. Gene-edited foods, for example, do not fall into the category of "GMO" based on the language in the law. The food and agriculture industries reluctantly threw support behind the federal law.
While GMOs remain a controversial, there’s a general consensus within the scientific community that genetically modified foods are safe to eat. Numerous studies have shown no adverse health effects associated with the consumption of GM crops. Still, some critics of GMOs argue that the crops encourage greater use of herbicides and cause damage to the environment. Roughly 70 percent of processed foods sold in the U.S. contain some GMO ingredients.
• Obama Signs Bill Requiring Labeling of GMO Foods [AP via WaPo]