Concerns arise that GMO labeling bill will impact biotechnology, market pricesWritten by Emilee Gibb
After several years deliberating and refining, United States President Barack Obama officially signed into law the Genetic Modified Organism (GMO) Labeling Bill on July 29, which prevents states from requiring on-package text to identify GMO products.
The monumental passing of the bill will have significant impacts on biotechnology, food processers and agricultural producers alike.
“We cannot understate the importance of this agreement and the importance of this bill. I’ve been covering farm policy full-time for 17 years now, and this labeling issue has been a huge issue not only in the United States, but internationally ever since then,” said AgriPulse Senior Editor Philip Brasher.
Brasher was joined by AgriPulse Associate Editor Spencer Chase to give recent update regarding the bill in a recent video interview.
According to Brasher, the two most important elements of the bill for the agricultural industry are labeling language requirements and the definition of GMO products that would require labeling.
Genetically modified organisms, for the purpose of the bill, are identified as those products that are produced through transgenic technology.
“The definition of genetic engineering for the purposes of this disclosure is pretty narrow. It’s limited to the sort of transgenic products that we now have on the market where we take a gene from a bacteria and put it in a plant,” said Brasher.
New techniques, such as gene editing and RNA interference are not covered by the definition and will not require mandatory labeling.
The bill will also not require the labeling of meat products that were fed genetically modified products prior to slaughter.
The mandatory disclosure element of the bill will not require on-package text but allows food companies to have the option to choose text, a digital quick response code or a symbol that will be chosen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“It was very important for the industry that there not be on-package labeling, any kind of on-package text requirement for it to say produced by genetic engineering,” said Brasher.
Creating a uniform system was an important issue in developing the bill. Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Brett Moline referenced the issues faced with organic labeling 15 years ago, noting that it was important to avoid the same inconsistencies with GMO labeling.
“Every state was doing their own thing. For example, somebody who went to Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming for farmers’ markets would have to have three different labels,” said Moline.
The GMO labeling bill preempts state laws that many were concerned about, said Chase.
Brasher continued, “States can pass their own laws, but they have to be identical to the federal standards.”
The next step for the GMO labeling bill will be to transition to rulemaking by USDA to determine how to implement the regulations.
“It moves on to the process of USDA rule making. That process is expected to take two years,” said Chase.
Brasher noted that the rulemaking process has already begun. However, challenges in court can be expected.
“They have a working group that is already preparing for the implementation of that rule,” said Brasher. “That rule is likely to be challenged in court, but it’s very important in terms of setting the specifics of how this disclosure standard will work.”
Mandatory disclosure may lead to consumer bias against genetic modification, resulting in companies moving away from the technology, explained Brasher.
“This agreement really lays out the future for ag biotech because there’s been so much concern for so long among farmers, food companies and biotech companies that if GMO labeling were required, that it would stigmatize the technology and companies would move away from it,” said Brasher.
Moline warned producers that this bias, along with the cost of labeling products may impact the profit of food companies and then impact prices paid to producers.
“It all trickles down. If the costs up the chain goes up, it comes back to the producer being paid less for their product,” said Moline.
Moline noted that the changes in the market may be more profitable for small segments of the agricultural industry, including organic producers.
“Some segments of the industry might come up, like the organic, but it’s a small segment of the population of production,” continued Moline.
Future impacts on the agricultural industry remain uncertain, said Moline.
“We’ll have to see how this next presidential election comes out, as that could greatly impact it. What other countries and nations do, that could impact it some,” he said. “Right now, it’s kind of a wait-and-see attitude.”
He noted that the immediate impact of the labeling being put into place will most likely be negative for the agricultural industry as stigmatism encourages food companies to move away from transgenic technology.
“The overall ramifications to production agriculture are probably going to be negative until we get more research money to improve our crop genetics the old fashioned way, so to speak,” continued Moline.
According to Brasher, food companies will continue to move toward using new techniques such as RNA interference that are not covered by the bill.
“We’re going to see even more companies moving toward that,” concluded Brasher.