US feed orgs celebrate federal GMO-labeling bill passage

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Feed organizations were quick to offer support after the US House of Representatives passed a federal bill addressing labeling GMO products and preempting a state-level law.

The bill, which had previously passed in the Senate, addresses how genetically modified organisms (GMO) should be acknowledged in food and feed products, passed Thursday with a 306-117 vote. It still needs to be signed by US President Barack Obama.

Groups including the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and American Soybean Association (ASA) applauded the passage, although the bill does contain mandatory labeling requirements for specific products made from or including ingredients that were genetically engineered (GE).

“The mandatory labeling was not the House’s first choice or ours, but between what we think is a workable labeling approach that preserves the efficiency of the supply chain or the Vermont law that we think would have disastrous outcome – that’s what the choice is now,” Randy Gordon, NGFA president told us in a previous interview. “It’s really the choice between the Senate bill and the Vermont statute.”

The approval of the Senate-initiated bill in the House marks a “monumental win” for both the feed industry and consumers, said Leah Wilkinson, vice president of legislative, regulatory and state affairs with AFIA.

“This decision proves Congress understands the need for a national standard, not a patchwork system, when it comes to those supplying food and animal feed, and those purchasing it,” she said. “Now we look to President Obama to stay true to his word, and sign this bill into law. We urge the president to act immediately, and thank Congress for their swift actions.” 

Feed concerns

Several feed and producer groups had advocated for the passage of a federal bill to avoid the potential confusion of state-level bills that presented differing standards.   

Additionally, Wilkinson said in a previous interview, state-level bills might have called for the labeling of feed that included biotech ingredients or that products like meat, milk or eggs, from animals fed a diet including biotech items be labeled. Passage of the federal bill clarifies that those products will not be labeled as containing biotech traits.

"AFIA is pleased the confusion surrounding animal food products will be minimized by requiring disclosure for human food only,” she said. “Products derived from animals fed GE ingredients are also not required to display a label. State preemption in the bill does apply to all food--the term 'food' being all encompassing (human and animal) by federal definition--thereby ensuring one national standard.”

Bill details

The bill gives the Secretary of Agriculture two years to establish national standards for the disclosure of bioengineered foods.

Regulations would apply to human food products that have an ingredient that “contains genetic material that has been 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,” according to the bill.

However, labeling requirements would not apply to food derived from an animal simply because the animal ate feed that was genetically engineered or contained ingredients that were, according to the bill.

The secretary also will have to set forms of disclosure either as text, symbol or electronic or digital link and provide an option for use with small packages. Small manufacturers also are to have an additional year to meet the requirements.

States also must comply with the language in the bill, and do not have the authority to establish a separate set of standards regarding the labeling of products that contain bioengineered ingredients, according to the bill.

If signed into law, the ill would preempt a Vermont-based law that required labeling of products containing GMO ingredients.

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