GMO bill rejects states’ patchwork regulation

The House passed a controversial bill blocking mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically engineered or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), supporting industry lobbying efforts to keep GMO labeling voluntary. In a 275-150 vote with 45 Democrats crossing the aisle, The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act 2015, would also preempt any state initiatives on GMO labeling, including one set to go into effect in Vermont in July 2016 if it survives legal challenges from the food industry. Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws requiring the GMO labeling, but those measures will not take effect unless neighboring states follow suit. About 75 to 80 percent of foods in the U.S. market contain GMOs.

The bill would increase FDA oversight by requiring that any new genetically engineered products be reviewed by the agency before sales, which is voluntary for most modified foods. In addition, the bill would also create a new certification process at the Department of Agriculture for foods that are labeled free of GMOs.

The debate on the bill ahead of the vote was contentious, as Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan), who authored the bill, noted that mandatory labeling laws were unnecessarily costly given that GMOs have been deemed safe by the FDA. Supporters of the bill argued that mandatory labeling would overly burden the food industry with requirements. Opponents argued that 64 other countries had adopted GMO labeling of foods and that consumers had a right to transparency in food production. Opponents noted that the external science on GMO safety in food is still mixed and that the bill would prevent the FDA from creating a national standard on GMO labeling.

The House rejected two Democratic amendments to the bill. One offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) would have banned the use of the term “natural” on food that contains a genetically engineered plant. Another proposal from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore) would have forced any U.S. company that labeled a product as containing GMOs in a foreign country to label the equivalent product the same way in the U.S.

The Senate is a not a lock for passing the bill, but there is growing support.