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Letters from Leadership: GMO Labeling


On September 16, 2016, OTA's CEO and Board President sent the following message to the membership regarding what's ahead in implementing the federal GMO labeling law. They also reached out to members when the bill was introduced in Juneafter the bill was passed by Congress in July, and after President Obama signed the bill into law in August.

Dear OTA Members,

We wanted to take a moment to provide an update on the work to develop regulations for the GMO labeling law. After the President signed the bill into law in August, the critical question became: What happens next? In short, a whole lot more work. And we are officially off to the races.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with implementing these national mandatory labeling standards. As with any implementation of law, the outcome can be improved or set back. It’s up to us all to make sure it is improved. The bill has its flaws, for sure. Most notably, it includes an option to reveal the presence of GMOs through technology that would require a smartphone and internet access. OTA will urge 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. In addition, we will continue to partner with Just Label it and engage with USDA to limit the technology application. USDA has issued a request for information to help shape the design of a study to “identify potential challenges that may impact whether a consumer would have access to the bioengineering disclosure through the electronic or digital disclosure methods.” USDA has one year to complete this study.

OTA will also stay highly engaged to make sure important clarifications regarding definitions become institutionalized in the regulations, and that meaningful thresholds for disclosure are established. We will emphasize that there must be built-in mechanisms for the public to weigh in on any future determinations regarding whether GMO technologies will require labeling. OTA will defend the law’s protection of the organic standards from any weakening by the implementation of the GMO labeling program, including the clarification that the organic standard maintains its own definition for GMOs as an excluded and prohibited method.

OTA has already engaged USDA directly to review our priorities. And USDA has announced that an Advanced Notice of Propose Rulemaking (ANPR) will be released in early October. The ANPR will be structured around a series of questions. This will provide the opening of the official opportunity for the organic sector to lay out the specifics of our priorities, issues and concerns. OTA will provide extensive comments, and looks forward to your engagement.

At the upcoming Natural Products Expo East, OTA is hosting two working meetings for members with Just Label It and the USDA team working on the development of the regulations to lay down markers and facilitate stakeholder engagement. 

As we approach this next phase of work, we take note that every food manufacturer is now engaged in a conversation that all of us in the organic industry have already had : Does our food contain GMOs?  Those manufacturers are going to be forced to pivot to the next step: Do we label or remove the GMOs from our ingredients?  That’s a healthy conversation, and one forced by years of the GMO campaigns, and ultimately, the new federal law.

As we’ve said before, progress often comes step by step— join us in that next step. There have been challenges, but together we have accomplished a tremendous amount this summer to advance organic. Thank you for your support of the trade association, for engaging in our member communities, and for everything you do to advance organic food and farming.

Protecting organic. Promoting organic. Our mission.

Laura Batcha 
CEO/Executive Director, Organic Trade Association

Melissa Hughes
OTA Board President
General Counsel & Director of Government Relations, Organic Valley 

Read OTA's Position on GMOs               Learn more about GMO labeling