Mandatory GMO Labeling Takes a Hit as House Votes Yes on Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act

July 23, 2015

Passed by the U.S. House today, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would make it impossible for states to mandate GMO labeling.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599) passed a 275–150 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives today. The bipartisan bill would make it impossible for states to mandate GMO labeling.

HR 1599 would preempt the patchwork of state-mandated GMO-labeling laws already passed, including Vermont’s mandatory labeling law that was set to go into effect next year.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act is largely supported by the food industry, including by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Corn Growers Association and by companies like DuPont and Monsanto. Opponents, who call the act the “Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act,” include the Organic Trade Association, the Center for Food Safety, and the Environmental Working Group.

 

Here are some other things the bill proposes:

  • The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which runs USDA National Organic Program, would be instructed to establish a federal-standard certification program for non-GMO food. Products that are certified USDA organic may be labeled non-GMO.
  • Before introducing a new GMO crop to commerce, companies would be required to file premarket notification with FDA explaining why the plant is “as safe as a comparable non-GMO food.” This process would now be mandatory, not voluntary. After reviewing the safety data, if FDA feels the food is not "comparable" to a non-GMO counterpart, the agency could require the company to include a label “informing consumers of the difference.”
  • FDA would finally be required to develop a federal definition for the term “natural," as the lack of a definition remains a headache for the food industry and consumers alike. Of note, one proposed amendment to the bill to deny use of the term “natural” on GMO foods did not make it into the bill, so GMO-containing foods can still be labeled “natural.”

 

Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act in March. The bill is a re-introduction of an earlier version, HR 4432, also called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.

Following today’s vote, Pompeo issued a statement: “This bill, supported by over 400 groups that provide safe and affordable food for our world…will eliminate the state-by-state labeling patchwork that would serve to confuse consumers, stigmatize GMO crops, and raise food crops.”

Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a press statement, “A federal approach to food labeling remains the only way to ensure that Americans everywhere can access accurate information about the food they purchase. HR 1599 is fact-based, commonsense legislation that will provide the kind of clarity and consistency in the marketplace for food labels that American consumers deserve.”

The Environmental Working Group issued a statement of its own. “It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs. “Today’s vote to deny Americans the right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown was a foregone conclusion. This House was bought and paid for by corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that it passed a bill to block states and the FDA from giving consumers basic information about their food.”

Although the bill passed by a wide margin in the House, it’s unclear how it will fare on the Senate floor.

“We’re confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act,” Faber said. “We continue to hope that thoughtful food companies that listen to their customers will work with consumer groups to craft a non-judgmental GMO disclosure to put on the back of food packaging. Americans should have the same right as citizens of 64 other countries to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown.”

 

Jennifer Grebow
Editor-in-Chief
Nutritional Outlook magazine
jennifer.grebow@ubm.com
 

Also read:

Yes, We Need a Federal GMO-Labeling Law. But Maybe It Should Be a Voluntary One.

GMO and Prop 65 Labeling: Unconstitutional?

USDA Verifies First Company Non-GMO Claim