Looking ahead to implementing GMO labeling

On July 29, 2016 President Obama signed GMO labeling legislation into law. The law, which passed the House and Senate by large bipartisan majorities earlier this summer, creates federal mandatory GMO labeling.

The big question is what happens next?” In short, a whole lot more work. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with implementing the national mandatory labeling standards, and, as with any implementation of law, the outcome can be improved or set back. It’s up to all of us to make sure it is improved.

The law includes notable protections for organic. It will not allow products that are exempt from informing consumers about their GMO content to automatically slap on a non-GMO claim. It makes a huge advance in recognizing and safeguarding USDA certified organic as the gold standard for transparency and non-GMO status. It also protects the organic standards from any weakening by the implementation of the GMO labeling law.

But the law has its flaws. Most notably, it includes an option to reveal the presence of GMOs through technology that would require a smartphone and internet access. The Organic Trade Association rejects that option and will continue to support Just Label It in urging the marketplace to make the right choice for consumers by choosing to print a simple and clear statement of GMO content on the product label. This is the most effective and transparent way to communicate with consumers.

The USDA has two years to finalize the regulations implementing this law, and we expect that to happen through a notice and comment rulemaking process. OTA will stay highly engaged to make sure important clarifications become institutionalized in the implementing regulations. We will hold USDA accountable to develop regulations aligned with their legal assessment of the scope of the law’s definitions. We will also place a targeted emphasis on making sure there are built in mechanisms for the public to weigh-in on any future determinations regarding whether GMO technologies will require labeling.

As a whole, the bill is far from perfect and we all have work to do as we move forward into the regulatory process to ensure we end up with a mandatory labeling regulation that supports the consumers right to know whether they are purchasing a genetically engineered food or not. OTA’s Board and staff will work with our members to stay at the table and engage effectively. Join us in our efforts to improve transparency for the consumer and maintain protections for organic.



You’ll find more on the Organic Trade Association’s position, the full text of the law, and helpful clarification on questions around scope and oversight


You’ll find a history of the GMO Labeling fight and an open letter to food executives urging on-package disclosure under this new law



You’ll find a side-by-side comparison of GMO labeling legislation and insight on why GMO labeling won’t increase food prices



You’ll find details on the Agriculture Department’s working group to manage the timeline and public process for participation in the rule-making