Strategies emerge after GMO labeling law passes
Now that a contentious food labeling bill has been signed into law by United States President Barack Obama, U.S. consumers and suppliers are trying to determine how manufacturers will carry out labeling of genetically engineered ingredients.
The new law, signed by Obama on 29 July and passed by Congress as part of the National Sea Grant College Program Act, sets a uniform national standard for disclosure of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. The law supersedes state laws such as Alaska’s law requiring labeling on genetically modified salmon products sold in the state.
The new law allows food manufacturers three different ways – all optional – to disclose the fact that their products contain genetically modified ingredients: words on a package label, a symbol on the label or by scanning an electronic code (QR code or something similar) on the package that takes the consumer to the information online.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will write rules and definitions for disclosing GE ingredients, which could take up to two years. Companies will get additional time after that to align themselves in compliance with the regulations.
“Once the rules are final and an effective date set, companies that have genetically engineered ingredients will be required to disclose that information. It won’t be voluntary at that time,” Roger Lowe, executive vice president of strategic communications for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told SeafoodSource.
Meanwhile, the Organic Consumers Association said that nearly 500,000 people have signed a petition to boycott brands that refuse to label products that contain GE ingredients.
“You can fight back. Check out our list (campaign targets) of companies that helped defeat GMO labeling laws. Boycott their products,” OCA said on its website.
Companies that spent millions of dollars lobbying on behalf of the GMO labeling bill include PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, ConAgra Foods and General Mills, according to OCA.
However, it is too soon for those manufacturers and others to say how they will label their foods, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Lowe.
“Since the bill was only signed into law [29 July] and the rules and regulations have not been developed yet, it is too early to say what companies will do when the regulations are finalized,” Lowe, of the Grocery Manufacturers Association said. “In addition, each company will make its own decision.”
AquaBounty, the supplier of AquAdvantage GE salmon, which was recently approved for consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said it was still figuring out how the details of the new law would affect it.
“We are pleased by the passage of the bill and the president's signature. However, it is early in the implementation phase, and we await USDA guidance on how the program will work,” Ron Stotish, president and CEO of AquaBounty, which supplies AquAdvantage salmon, told SeafoodSource.
Depending on how USDA decides to implement the new law, GE salmon “may require broad disclosure at the shelf level or possibly may be excluded entirely from regulation, simply because the animal is modified by way of genes occurring in nature, rather than those engineered in a laboratory,” said Gregory Morrow, principal in Squire Patton Boggs’ litigation practice and former executive vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Contessa Premium Foods.
Whatever the outcome of USDA regulations, the seafood industry should be involved in the process of developing standards, according to Morrow.
“Generally, there is a comment period before such federal regulation goes into effect. I believe it is very important for our industry to be involved and participate with USDA during this regulatory process so that we have a clear understanding of what compliance truly means,” Morrow said.