Food manufacturers are now expected to specify whether their products are made with genetically modified ingredients after U.S. President Barack Obama signed the new GMO labeling law on July 29.
Originally known as Senate Bill 764, the new legislation serves to provide federal standards for the manufacture of food products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Those that contain GMO ingredients are required to have a symbol, a text label or electronic code that can be read by smartphone scanners to identify them as such.
White House spokeswoman Katie Hill said the measure aims to give consumers new opportunities when it comes to accessing valuable information about the food they buy.
With the signing of the new law last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has up to two years to formulate new rules regarding its implementation.
Labeling GMO Food Products
U.S. lawmakers were hard pressed to adopt S. 764 after a similar, albeit tougher legislation came into effect in Vermont earlier in July.
The Vermont law requires that all GMO food products entering the state must include proper labels. Those that would violate the new policy would be fined a hefty $1,000 per day for each product.
According to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, such legislation could severely threaten interstate commerce in the country, as even small family-owned food companies now face penalties.
Despite the adoption of S. 764, several lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Bernie Sanders believe that the measure is not enough to properly address the situation, especially when compared with the tougher labeling policy in Vermont.
While S. 764 allows companies to choose between three methods of labeling their products, the Vermont law requires them to specifically tag GMO products as "produced with genetic engineering."
Supporters of GMO labeling and food companies have long sought a national solution to the problem in order to avoid states having to enact different labeling laws of their own.
However, while food companies have expressed support for S. 764, many labeling advocates fear that consumers might not be able to read the electronic labels on the products and that the penalties might not be enough to force companies to comply.
Any food product made using animals or plants that have genes copied from other organisms can be considered as genetically modified.
In the United States, genetic engineering in agriculture is mostly used to grow soybean and corn crops, which are then fed to livestock. Some genetically modified crops are also used to produce processed food ingredients typically seen in supermarkets such as high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil and cornstarch.