On Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed S. 764, a Senate-initiated bill establishing a national uniform standard for labeling of bioengineered foods, sometimes referred to as genetically modified foods or GMOs. The law will prevent a patchwork of state standards by preempting inconsistent state laws such as Vermont’s controversial labeling rule, which took effect on July 1 of this year.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

The bill provides for a national uniform standard for the disclosure of bioengineered foods. Recognizing that label space is limited, in addition to allowing disclosure in text or a symbol on the label, the bill would alternatively allow disclosure through a digital link to a website (i.e., QR code or similar technology). This policy, as we previously wrote, was the result of a compromise between Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts and Committee Ranking Member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and the bill passed both houses with bi-partisan support.

The bill establishes some general contours for the disclosure rules, such as a policy that meat will not be considered bioengineered solely because the animal consumed bioengineered feed, and a carve out for foods served at restaurants. However, specific standards will be set by the Department of Agriculture, which is required to issue implementing regulations within two years of the law’s passage.  We will be closely monitoring those developments.