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Congress Passes GMO Labeling Bill – Preempting State Labeling Laws

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In response to recent state efforts to regulate the labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the U.S. House of Representatives, on July 14, passed S. 764, a Senate-initiated bill establishing a national uniform standard for GMO product labeling. The bill, which has not yet been signed into law by President Obama, nationalizes labeling standards for conventional foods and dietary supplements containing GMOs – organisms whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques – and expressly preempts states from creating their own GMO labeling laws, even if more strict. The law will generally require products containing GMOs to be labeled in one of three distinct ways: (1) using plain-language text disclosing the presence of genetically engineered ingredients, (2) using a yet to be created U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) symbol on product packaging, or (3) affixing to packaging a "QR code" for consumers to scan with their personal electronic devices.

Under the law, the USDA will have two years to develop regulations to implement the new labeling standards, which will not take effect until 2018. The legislation permits USDA to determine how much of a "bioengineered substance" must be present in a product to require a GMO label. For example, foods that were made with GMOs, such as highly refined oils and high-fructose corn syrup, but contain virtually no traces of GMOs after processing, may not be subject to the labeling requirements. The bill also directs the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to exclude animals for consumption that feed on GMO crops, such as cows or pigs fed GMO corn, from being labeled as GMO products.

Baker Donelson will continue to closely monitor the new law and regulations. For more information about how these new regulations may affect your business or related matters, please contact Kyle Diamantas or any member of the Firm's FDA Group.

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