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Home > Message to Members about GMO Labeling, August 2016

Message to Members about GMO Labeling, August 2016


On August 1, 2016, OTA's CEO and Board President sent the following message to the membership regarding the federal GMO labeling law. 

Dear OTA Members,

On Friday afternoon, President Obama signed the GMO labeling legislation into law. This follows the House of Representatives passage of the bill that cleared the Senate the week before (known as the Stabenow Roberts compromise). Read the law here.  

The big question is what happens next. In short, a whole lot more work. The Agriculture Department is charged with implementing the national mandatory labeling standards, and, 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 rejects that option and commends Just Label It for its continued work to 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. This is the most effective and transparent way to communicate with consumers. OTA will continue to partner with Just Label it and engage with USDA to limit the application of the QR-type code and set the stage for the market to make the obvious choice of simple on-pack statements to disclose GMOs.

But this bill does go a long way to increased clarity for consumers. It covers thousands more products than Vermont’s GMO labeling law and other state initiatives. Senators Leahy and Stabenow confirmed in a formal discussion on the floor of the Senate the extent of the bill’s coverage, and reinforced USDA’s legal interpretation and the intent of Congress. As USDA implements regulations, OTA will stay highly engaged to make sure these important clarifications become institutionalized in the regulations. We will also place a targeted emphasis on making sure there are built in mechanisms for the public to weigh-in on any future determinations regarding whether GMO technologies will require labeling.

Regarding the bill’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 will press USDA for immediate policy issuances to alleviate concerns raised by inaccurate interpretations of the law.

USDA has already established a working group to manage the timeline and public process for participation in the rule-making. Staying at the table and engaging in a smart, effective way will make a difference between improving transparency for the consumer and protections for organic, or not. And we will be calling on OTA members to participate and make the difference.

Keeping organic strong as THE alternative to chemical food and farming is our top priority. Our mission is to protect organic agriculture and trade, and we have to take the long view to achieve that mission. But we’re optimistic, and so much has already changed in the power structures of food and agriculture. The dedicated work in Vermont and other states is part of what forced acceptance of national mandatory disclosure—even if imperfect. The long view makes progress step by step. Let’s take that next step together.

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