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What it does 

This piece of legislation aims to improve food labelling uniformity and transparency for genetically modified organisms and ingredients in foods and would preempt state and local labelling standards.

S. 2621 would amend Section 403 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The amendment would state that:

  • Producers must use the following methods to indicate the presence of genetically modified ingredients:
    • Using “the words ‘genetically engineered’ or the abbreviation ‘GE’ in parenthesis immediately following the…name of each genetically engineered ingredient;”
    • Using an asterisk next to the name of each ingredient with a statement that indicates those ingredients are genetically engineered;
    • Using a statement from the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“Secretary”) that would disclose if the food is produced or partially produced with GMO products; or
    • Using a new symbol, established by the Secretary, that would disclose if the food is produced or partially produced with GMO products.
  • Foods are exempt from these requirements if:
    • GMO ingredients account for less than 0.9% of the food’s weight;
    • Genetically engineered vaccines were used during the production process; or
    • The food was produced with a product or enzyme created from a GMO.
  • Any products not in compliance with the above requirements would be considered mislabeled.
  • For genetically modified foods produced or derived from raw agricultural commodities, labelling requirements will be established by the Secretary after consulting the Secretary of Agriculture.

Section 3 of the bill requires the Secretary to issue interim rules regarding the above amendment no later than December 31, 2016.  The Secretary shall issue proposed regulations no later than 18 months after legislative enactment and final regulations no later than 24 months after enactment.

Relevant Science 

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are developed using complex lab-based measures that specifically alter genetic material in order to introduce non-natural, desirable traits or delete less desirable ones. The genome of an organism can be edited to either:

  • Insert a gene from another organism; or
  • Delete a piece of DNA from the original organism’s genome.

The introduction of foreign genetic material can provide many advantages, such as increased yields, increased resistance to pests and disease (and reduced need for pesticides), enhanced crop nutrient content, and enhanced crop viability in harsher soil and weather conditions. GMOs do not refer to living organisms that have been modified through selective breeding, a technique that has historically been used in agriculture to select for plants with high yields or sweet fruits.

There are many pros to GMOs, including increased yields, better resistance to disease and pests, better nutrient content, and improved viability in harsher growing conditions. Opponents believe that genetically modified organisms can impact human health through consumption. Studies from the United States National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society of Medicine, the European Union, and the World Health Organization have all concluded that GMOs do not pose a hazard to human health

Relevant Experts 
Endorsements & Opposition 

The labelling of genetically modified foods has been strongly supported by the Democratic party, while Republicans prefer to support voluntary labeling.

Endorsements:

  • The Consumers Union, the advocacy branch for Consumer Reports, wrote a letter in opposition of S.764, which has an amendment prohibiting states from requiring labels on GMO foods, but in this same letter, supported S. 2621. The stated: “Instead, the Senate should pass S. 2621, the Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act, recently introduced by Senator Merkley. This bill would provide consumers with clear and straightforward information, while giving food companies the certainty of a national standard and the flexibility to choose from one of several different types of back-of-the-package labeling.”

Opposition:

  • At present, there has not been any publically reported opposition to this bill.
Status 

S. 2621 was introduced on March 2, 2016 and assigned to the committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Sponsors 

S. 2621 is sponsored by Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The four original co-sponsors are Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Bernard Sanders (I-VT). 

Primary Author 
Michelle Zhu
Editor(s) 
Elizabeth Cirulli, PhD, Allison Roder, PhD Candidate, & Aubrey Incorvaia, MPP
Recommended Citation 

Duke SciPol, “Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act (S 2621, 114th Congress)” available at http://scipol.duke.edu/Biotechnology-Food-Labeling-Uniformity-Act (06/13/2016).