The bill will now go to the President to be signed into law, after which the US Department of Agriculture will have two years to set up a "national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard".
The federal bill will pre-empt state-led GMO labeling laws, including one that has just come into effect in Vermont. Trade groups and manufacturers including Kellogg and General Mills have previously said a state-by-state approach to GMO labelling was impractical, with some initiating voluntary national activity.
The American Bakers Association (ABA) said combating Vermont’s GMO labeling requirement had been its top priority, and praised members of the baking industry for their “tireless work in pushing the bill across the finish line”.
'Inaction was not an option'
“Thanks to nearly 5,000 emails, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings on Capitol Hill, we were able to show our elected officials that a state-by-state patchwork of labeling requirements would dismantle our industry’s finely tuned distribution network, and inaction was not an option,” said ABA chairman Fred Penny, who is president of Bimbo Bakeries USA.
The Independent Bakers Association also welcomed the passing of the bill for protecting “the entire food-supply chain” from state-specific labeling laws.
“The agreement legislation will bring consistency and transparency to the marketplace and will give consumers access to more product information than ever before without stigmatizing the safe, proven science behind biotechnology,” it added in a statement.
Flexibility in form of labeling
The federal legislation requires mandatory disclosure on food labels but manufacturers have been given flexibility over the form this takes. This means companies will be able to use QR codes or other symbols instead of state on pack that a product uses GMOs – a move that has upset some campaigners.
"Rather than requiring food makers to state the presence of genetically engineered ingredients in plain English, the new federal law would allow food companies instead to use codes, or to offer phone numbers or website addresses that consumers would need to access for the information,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of US Right to Know.