On Friday, July 29, US President Obama signed into law S. 764, which overturns Vermont's GMO label law and establishes a national standard for GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling. The US House of Representatives passed the final Senate Amendment to S. 764 by a vote of 306 to 117 on July 17. The Senate had passed it by 63 to 30. The law will bar any state laws or regulations on GMO labeling.
Within two years after the law is enacted, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is to create a national mandatory bioengineered food labeling program. The agency is also to establish a process for determining whether a food is considered bioengineered under the law. What is somewhat controversial under the new law is how that label must be displayed. The USDA will be required to mandate an on-package disclosure of GMO ingredients by text, a symbol or electronic or digital link with language such as, "scan here for more food information." Smaller companies may merely provide a phone number for GMO information. In other words, there is no requirement that the label clearly state that the food is a GMO product or that it display an easily readable and identifiable symbol for GMO. Civil rights leaders have already objected to the inaccessibility of GMO information to the 100 million Americans without smartphones, most of whom are low-income or people of color.
The legislation is intended to avoid a patchwork of state-specific GMO labeling laws. Accordingly, it will preempt state GMO labeling laws. For example, Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law, which took effect on July 1, will be preempted, as will laws in Connecticut and Maine that that have not yet taken effect. These state laws all require food labels for products sold in those state to clearly display whether the food was produced entirely or partially with genetic engineering.