Flawed GMO Labeling Bill Signed into Federal Law

By Non-GMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate.

On July 29th, 2016, a historically discriminatory and fatally flawed mandatory GMO labeling bill was signed into federal law in the United States. The legislation, dubbed by opponents as “the DARK Act” originated from a motivation to preempt states’ ability to require meaningful GMO labeling.

Below are our answers to common industry questions about the new legislation and its relationship to the Non-GMO Project. You might also find it helpful to review our consumer-facing blog on Living Non-GMO.

How will this impact the Non-GMO Project?

This law does not have any direct effect on the Non-GMO Project, it simply makes it more important than ever for shoppers to “look for the Butterfly.”

We see this law as the end of meaningful mandatory labeling in the United States, a significant historical development that reinforces the critical value of the Non-GMO Project’s market-based strategy and reason for existence. As a non-profit, our mission is to preserve and build sources of non-GMO products, educate shoppers, and provide verified non-GMO choices. For those who care about the right to know, and for shoppers looking to avoid GMOs, the butterfly label remains the best choice.

What does this mean for me as a producer of Non-GMO Project Verified products?  

This law does not change the Project’s verification program or your right to use the butterfly logo. Now more than ever, your commitment to providing Non-GMO Project Verified products to your customers helps you stand out as a champion of informed choice. This is a good moment to talk about your non-GMO commitment and reassure shoppers that they can continue to count on you for clearly labeled non-GMO options.

What happens now with Vermont Act 120?

Effective immediately upon Obama’s signing of this new legislation on July 29th, Vermont Act 120 has been federally preempted and is no longer law. This is true in spite of the fact that the new federal legislation isn’t scheduled to take effect for two years.

How will this impact retailers?

The loss of any chance for meaningful mandatory GMO labeling means that retailers continue to have a critically important job to do in educating shoppers. Registering for Non-GMO Month this October is an important way to get access to tools, materials and information to help you stand out as a non-GMO leader in your community.

What about organic products?

The Non-GMO Project Standard continues to be the most rigorous, meaningful non-GMO standard in the marketplace. The organic label is another option, but unlike the Non-GMO Project, the organic rules do not require testing for GMO contamination. Organic does, however, cover other important subjects that the Project doesn’t (synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, etc.). Consumers looking for the most comprehensive assurance should look for products with BOTH labels.

What are the biggest problems with the new labeling law?

According to the FDA, the definition of bioengineering in this bill is so ambiguous and narrow that it “will likely mean that many foods from GE sources will not be subject to this bill. For instance, oil made from GE soy would not have any genetic material in it. Likewise, starches and purified proteins would not be covered.”

The FDA further commented that it “may be difficult” for ANY GMO food to qualify for labeling under the bill in that it would have to be proven that a GMO product’s modification could not be achieved through conventional breeding or be found in nature – something near impossible to determine. This means most GMO foods might not be subject to mandatory labeling under this law.

Another fatal flaw is that the new law allows labeling to be done using QR codes and 800- numbers, rather than plain English. This discriminates against the 100 million Americans—nearly one third of the population—who don’t own smartphones.

What happens next?

The USDA has established a working group to develop a timeline for rulemaking. The law is not scheduled to take effect for two years, and a lot of critical questions remain unanswered. The Non-GMO Project will provide ongoing updates on significant milestones in rulemaking and is here to provide information as needed—please contact info@nongmoproject.org  with any questions.

Remember, the bottom line is that nothing about this new law directly impacts the Non-GMO Project or the right of companies to use the butterfly label on Verified products.

We continue to believe that everyone has a right to know what’s in their food and deserves access to non-GMO choices. Collectively, committed brands, retailers and shoppers are changing the way our food is grown and made and are protecting the integrity of our diverse genetic inheritance. Our work is now more important than ever.