On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law a bill that will establish federal standards for labeling of food products that contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”). Several consumer advocates opposed the bill, as it preempts more stringent labeling requirements in states like Vermont. However, several advocates on the other side favored the notion of national, uniform standards, as opposed to a patchwork of individualized state labeling laws.
The new law requires disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients, allowing companies to do so through text, symbols or scannable smartphone codes on food product packages. The United States Department of Agriculture must formulate the new regulations within the next two years.
As stated above, the law, which enjoyed bipartisan support, preempts state laws, including existing laws in Vermont that mandate disclosure of GMO ingredients on product packaging. Some consumer advocates claim the new law makes it difficult for low-income consumers without internet connectivity or the right smartphone technology to access ingredient information.
In the past few years, food manufacturers and retailers, including nationwide grocery stores and restaurants, have been hit with class action lawsuits alleging false advertising regarding the presence of GMO ingredients in their food products. This new law and forthcoming regulations should provide companies with more clarity and guidance on this front, thus hopefully reducing their class litigation exposure. Hunton & Williams LLP will continue to monitor this area.