As the deadline draws closer for Congressional action preempting state laws mandating GMO food labeling, which are set to take effect next year, a late lobbying push to include a policy rider in the Omnibus appropriations legislation fell short of meeting the goal of some in the industry of a national GMO labeling compromise. The text of the bill, unveiled early Wednesday morning, is silent on broader GMO food labeling requirements. A provision aimed at genetically engineered salmon, however, may provide a glimpse into Congress’ plans in early 2016.

Last month, the FDA approved a type of salmon genetically designed to speed the growth to market size and declined to mandate special labeling for this unique salmon. Instead, the Omnibus legislation appropriates $150,000 in funding to the FDA to finalize and implement guidelines for the labeling of genetically modified salmon before allowing sale. Proponents of mandatory GMO labeling are calling the provision a victory, while those seeking a preemptive nationwide standard remain disappointed. Specifically, GMO food manufacturers worry that compliance with a patchwork of state laws could result in hundreds of million dollars in compliance costs.

The inclusion of a provision narrowly aimed at salmon is curious. Perhaps the FDA’s apparent willingness to approve more categories of GMO foods without labeling requirements caught the eye of Congress, and a solution may remain in the works. As we wrote a few weeks ago, several Senators are negotiating a bipartisan compromise bill that would preempt more onerous state laws and provide transparency for consumers without stigmatizing GMO foods. The potential compromise likely involves barcodes or Quick Response (QR) codes, rather than wording – an approach supported by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and many industry groups.  The word is still out as to whether this compromise ever will be achieved, but the recent Congressional activity in the area may signal interest in resolving the GMO labeling issue.

Thus, for advocates of preemptive GMO labeling legislation disappointed by the lack of language in the Omnibus, the salmon provision may signal a silver lining for next year. To become law, the Omnibus still requires the President’s signature as it has passed both the House and Senate. If our firm can be of assistance regarding GMO labeling legislation, please feel free to contact Charles Fleischmann.