By Donald Zuhn --
Earlier this month, the Senate passed legislation (S. 764) that would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national disclosure standard for bioengineered foods. Pursuant to the bill, which was passed by a 63-30 vote, the Secretary would have to establish a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard within two years of enactment of the legislation. The bill defines bioengineering with respect to food as referring to food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques, and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.
The legislation also specifies that the form of bioengineered food disclosure promulgated by the Secretary of Agriculture must be a text, symbol, or electronic or digital link, but that such disclosure would not apply to "food contained in small or very small packages" prepared by "small food manufacturers" or "very small food manufacturers". For small food manufacturers, the legislation requires that the manufacturers provide on-package disclosure options that consist of a telephone number and Internet website. The legislation excludes food very small food manufacturers (as well as food served in a restaurant or "similar retail food establishment").
In addition to requiring the Secretary to create a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard, the bill also requires the Secretary to conduct a study within a year of enactment "to identify potential technological challenges that may impact whether consumers would have access to the bioengineering disclosure through electronic or digital disclosure methods." When conducting the study, the Secretary must also solicit and consider comments from the public. The legislation also allows the Secretary to provide additional and comparable disclosure options that may be identified during the study.
With respect to existing state food labeling standards, the legislation mandates that no state establish (or continue in effect) any bioengineered food labeling or disclosure requirements for food that is involved in interstate commerce and subject to the national bioengineered food disclosure standard that are not identical to the national bioengineered food disclosure standard. The legislation would also prohibit state labeling requirements for seed that is genetically engineered or that was developed or produced using genetic engineering.