GMO Labeling Bill Covers Refined Ingredients, USDA Says

By Casey Wooten

July 5 — The compromise legislation that would create a nationwide system for labeling food made with genetically modified organisms would cover refined ingredients such as canola oil and high-fructose corn syrup, the Agriculture Department said in a letter July 5.

The USDA letter is a response to a request from Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), asking the agency to clarify the definition of bioengineering in the bill.

The USDA said that the Senate bill (S. 764) would cover “products which may or may not contain highly refined oil, sugars or high-fructose corn syrup that have been produced or developed from genetic modification techniques,” according to the July 1 letter.

The letter sheds some light on how the USDA would craft rules implementing the bill if it were enacted and also serves as a counterpoint to its critics, who have argued that the measure doesn't cover certain highly refined ingredients.

Countering Opposition

Some lawmakers, including Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders (I) and Patrick Leahy (D)—whose home state's GMO labeling law would be preempted by the Senate bill—have criticized the legislation, saying that it doesn't go far enough to require food makers to disclose GMO ingredients.

Sanders has pledged to place a hold on the legislation, but because the measure cleared a procedural hurdle June 30 on a 68-29 vote, opponents appear less likely to delay its advance.

Stabenow and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) have pressed their colleagues to vote in favor of the compromise legislation. The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the bill July 6. The House must still pass the measure as well.

FDA Letter

The USDA's statement contrasts with a June 27 Food and Drug Administration letter to lawmakers that was critical of the GMO labeling bill, saying that it could “raise confusion” among consumers and regulators about which foods the measure would cover (See previous story, 06/30/16).

Stabenow hit back against the bill's critics in a July 5 statement, however, saying that despite the concerns raised in the FDA letter, the agency hasn't taken a position on the bill.

“The agreement places the authority of implementing this national, mandatory GMO label squarely with the USDA because this is not a food safety or human health issue,” Stabenow said in an e-mailed statement. “In fact, I find it ironic that people who want limited labeling options would reference FDA comments considering the FDA has repeatedly denied petitions to label foods with GMOs because they do not recognize them as potential risks to our health.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

For More Information

Text of the USDA letter is available at

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