April 11, 2014
The issue of labeling products that contain genetically modified (GMO) material is contentious and has faced strong opposition from many industry groups but has been backed aggressively by consumer advocacy groups. It is estimated that 80 percent of food in the United States contains at least one genetically engineered ingredient, and polls have indicated that 90 percent of consumers support labeling.
Recently, Maine and Connecticut passed laws requiring GMO labeling, and more than 20 states are currently considering similar legislation. As part of their labeling requirements, some states like Connecticut have also included provisions that make it illegal for food companies to label products containing GMO materials as “natural.”
Yesterday, however, a bill was introduced by Mike Pompeo (R-KS) that would nullify state laws that have been passed in favor of GMO labeling. The bill, called the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” intends to prohibit any mandatory labeling of bioengineered food products, while encouraging the continuation of voluntary labeling standards. Voluntary standards have been in place for 13 years but have not been utilized by a single company. The bill would also prevent the FDA from considering mandated labeling in the future.
The bill is co-sponsored by Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jim Matheson (D-UT), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Ed Whitfield (R-KY). Pompeo expects the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold a hearing on the bill by early summer. The justification for the bill is to avoid a “patchwork” of state statutes that will complicate interstate trade.
In contrast to the Pompeo bill, there are two pro-labeling bills in the hopper, both in the House and Senate. Last year, Rep. Peter Defazio (D-OR) sponsored the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act,” (H.R. 1699) that would deem “misbranded” any food that has been genetically engineered or contains one or more genetically engineered ingredients, unless the information is clearly disclosed. In the Senate, Barbara Boxer (D- CA) sponsored the same bill (S.809), which also includes a safeguard to protect producers from penalties associated with misbranded products in the case of unintended contamination that occurs as a result of “co-existence.”
We will continue to monitor the progress of this bill and the ongoing dialogue surrounding the issue.