The U.S Congress has passed legislation (S.764) requiring food and beverage manufacturers to disclose the use of ingredients made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Crafted by U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and backed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the bill defines bioengineered foods as those intended for human consumption that contain genetic material “modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques” and “for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

If signed by President Barack Obama (D) as expected, the legislation would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish within two years a mandatory standard for the disclosure of GMO ingredients in applicable products by “text, symbol, or electronic or digital link” such as a QR code, excluding URLs not embedded in the link. The new rules would also allow certified organic products bear “non-GMO” labels while reaffirming the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) “certified organic as the gold standard for transparency and non-GMO status,” according to a July 14, 2016, OTA press release.

Meanwhile, the legislative compromise has garnered both praise and condemnation from consumer groups that originally backed the measure. In particular, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has registered disappointment with the final provisions even as it lauded Stabenow’s work on the bill. “While the Roberts-Stabenow bill imposes a federal mandate to label genetically engineered food, it lacks many elements of the national GMO labeling system that EWG has fought for at the state and federal levels,” EWG said. “Many of our concerns center around the discretion the legislation gives the Department of Agriculture. In particular, the USDA may define – potentially too narrowly – the types of biotechnologies that will be subject to the labeling requirement. The USDA will also establish the threshold amount of GMO-derived ingredients that will mandate labeling. The department is also given discretion to determine how to hold companies accountable if they fail to label.” See NPR, July 14, 2015; EWG Press Release, July 8, 2016.