House passes bill blocking states from requiring GMO labels on food
Lydia Wheeler and Cristina Marcos
The House on Thursday passed hotly contested legislation that would keep states from issuing mandatory labeling laws for foods that contain genetically modified organisms, often called GMOs.
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which passed 275-150, would instead create a federal standard for the voluntary labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who authored the bill, called mandatory labeling laws — which have already passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine — unnecessarily costly given that GMOs have been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Precisely zero pieces of credible evidence have been presented that foods produced with biotechnology pose any risk to our health and safety,” Pompeo said. “We should not raise prices on consumers based on the wishes of a handful of activists.”Opponents have pushed back against the legislation, saying it will keep consumers from knowing what’s in their food and stop FDA from crafting a national GMO-labeling solution.
Consumer groups, backed by Democrats including Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), are instead calling the bill the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act.
“American families deserve to know what they are eating and feeding to their children,” DeLauro told reporters Wednesday. “The FDA already requires clear labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives and food processes. GMOs should be no different.”
Proponents of the legislation, however, claim a patchwork of labeling laws at the state level would drive up food costs.
Citing a study from a Cornell University professor, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said state-level GMO labeling mandates would increase grocery prices for a family of four by as much as $500 per year and cost food and beverage manufacturers millions of dollars to change food labels and supply chain systems.
But Democrats maintain that labeling would ensure transparency.
“What’s the problem with letting consumers know what they are buying?” asked Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
Democrats in the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, meanwhile, threw their support behind the legislation just before the bill went to the floor for a vote Thursday.
“A patchwork of confusing state specific laws related to GMO labeling risks further confusion in the marketplace and rising food costs,” the Blue Dog Coalition said in a statement. “However, we also understand that consumers have the right to know if food is GMO-free and this bill provides a uniform standard for those products through a USDA administered program.”
The House rejected two Democratic amendments to enhance GMO-labeling requirements. One offered by DeLauro, which failed 163-262, would have banned the use of the term “natural” on food that contains a genetically engineered plant. Another proposal from DeFazio that would have forced any U.S. company that labels a product as containing GMOs in a foreign country to label the equivalent product the same way in the U.S. went down by a vote of 123-303.
A third amendment offered by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) that would have given Native American tribes the authority to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GMO crops on tribal lands failed 196-227.