Implementing GMO labeling law could take years

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 requires that food containing GMO ingredients be identified by words, pictures, symbols or a QR barcode. | File photo
It will be a few years before consumers see the results of genetically modified organism labeling legislation passed in Washington this summer, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF) said during a recent interview.

With the legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama, all now waits upon the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue details of what "Genetically Modified Organisms" actually are, WFBF Director of Governmental Relations Karen Gefvert said during a Crop Protection News telephone interview. The labeling itself, including QR codes that consumers can scan on their smart phones, also needs to be set up and that will take time.

The USDA was given two years to write the rules and the labeling itself is expected to take an additional year, so Gefvert said it will be a total of three years.

The legislation itself, formerly House Bill 1599, did not take that long. Introduced into the U.S. House in March 2015, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 requires that food containing GMO ingredients be identified by words, pictures, symbols or a QR barcode. The legislation also requires the USDA to decide what ingredients would be considered genetically modified.

Opponents who referred to the legislation as "the DARK act" for "Deny Americans the Right to Know" claimed it would prevent the USDA from ever implementing mandatory genetic engineering food labeling and would allow food companies to continue misleading claims about food ingredients. More than 300 organizations came out against the legislation.

The GMO labelng provisions also had an impressive number of supporters, including the WFBF, the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, Monsanto Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Republican supporters in D.C. included House Speaker Paul Ryan and his fellow Wisconsin Reps. Sean Duffy, Glenn Grothman, Ron Kind and Reid Ribble.

The Senate passed the bill with a 63-30 vote on July 7 while the House passed it 306–117 a week later. The president signed the legislation into law July 29.

Naturally, not everyone was happy with the legislation's passage.

“It’s a huge disappointment, clearly,” Ted Quaday, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said in the July 14 edition of the Portland Press Herald. Quaday said that Congress had been hoodwinked by lobbyists for the big food companies, biotechnology companies and trade associations.

“This legislation is far from perfect because it requires labeling when there is the presence of ingredients (from GMOs) that scientists have deemed completely safe,” WFBF President Jim Holte said in a news release. “However, farmers and food manufacturers could not operate under a patchwork system of differing laws regarding GMO labeling in every state. This bill that was recently approved by the U.S. Senate prevents us from going down that road.”

The WFBF supported the legislation because it was the best that could be had, Gefvert told Crop Protection News.

"It obviously wasn't exactly everything that we wanted but, as with all legislation, compromise is how it's done," Gefvert said. "This was legislation that all parties were ready to agree to, so it got done."

It isn't all done yet, Gefvert said. "We're waiting for the USDA to act now," she said.