Consumers in the United States have increasingly demanded that manufacturers of foods that are either directly genetically engineered or that contain genetically engineered ingredients (“GE foods”) label their products as such. In general, federal law, in the form of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, lodges primary authority for approving and regulating the labeling of GE foods in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the FDA has been reluctant to mandate labeling of GE foods. In light of this federal regulatory void, states have proposed their own GE food labeling requirements, generating protests from manufacturers and federalism challenges in the form of federal preemption claims.
In July 2016, Congress settled this federalism conflict, mandating that the Secretary of Agriculture promulgate federal regulations to govern GE food labeling and preempting state labeling requirements. This article explores the history of GE food labeling federalism in the United States, concluding that the 2016 statute leaves the relationship between state and federal authority fairly clear but creates new ambiguities regarding the relationship of the FDA and FDCA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the new law.