Both houses of Congress passed legislation establishing a national law on the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sending the bill to the desk of President Barack Obama for a signature.

Senate Bill 764 would require food companies to disclose the use of GMOs for the first time. The food companies would have three options to inform consumers about the presence of genetically modified organisms: text, a symbol, or a code on the label that could be scanned by a smart device.

If enacted, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be tasked with drafting regulations within two years that would include the amount of a bioengineered substance that may be present in food for it to require a GMO label.

Manufacturers of food contained in small packages would be provided with alternative reasonable disclosure options (including an on-package telephone number for consumers to call for additional information) as well as additional time to achieve compliance with the new law. Food derived from an animal that consumed feed produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered substance would not be considered to contain GMOs.

A divided Senate approved the measure by a vote of 63 to 30, followed by approval in the House with a vote of 306 to 117. If signed by the President, the bill would also preempt any state GMO labeling statutes that have been enacted in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

To read SB 764, click here.

Why it matters: The controversial option of digital disclosure (critics argue that many consumers either don’t have the necessary technology or service to make use of a digital label code) will be the subject of a study by the USDA upon passage “to identify potential technological challenges that may impact whether consumers would have access to the bioengineering disclosure through electronic or digital disclosure methods.” The availability of landline telephones in stores or wireless cellular networks will be considered.