Hundreds of organizations and businesses on Wednesday urged Congress to oppose legislation that would preempt states from requiring labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods.
Instead, lawmakers received pleas to support legislation that would require labels on GE foods: H.R. 913, introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon; and S. 511, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California.
The letter to Congress blasted voluntary labeling legislation that has been introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas). Critics have dubbed H.R. 1599 the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. The legislation was introduced last year and reintroduced in March by Pompeo and Rep. G. K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina.
“By making voluntary labeling for genetically engineered (GMO) foods the national standard, this bill would enshrine in federal law a failed policy that has kept consumers in the dark about what they are eating for two decades," according to the letter, which was sent by 328 farm, food, health, public interest and environmental organizations and businesses. “This bill would also allow GMOs to be misleadingly labeled as ‘natural.’ But most importantly, this bill would strip away consumers’ right to know by preempting state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods."
Pompeo has said his legislation—known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015—would create a national system governing the labeling and premarket review of GE foods and require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review plant varieties used for GE foods before such products are introduced into the market. The legislation also would allow companies to label their products as GMO-free through a certification process that would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The potential for a 50 state patchwork of varying labeling standards would increase costs for producers and translate into higher prices for consumers to the tune of more than $500 per year for the average family," Butterfield said earlier this year in a press release.
More than 25 states have introduced legislation to label GE foods. Connecticut, Maine and Vermont have laws on the books, although Vermont's Act 120 is the only state law whose effectiveness is not contingent on other states passing similar labeling requirements.
While the letter Tuesday was endorsed by 328 groups and businesses, a separate letter sent last month to the U.S. House of Representatives supported Pompeo’s legislation and was sent by 373 organizations.
“By putting a stop to the patchwork of state-based labeling requirements," the April 28 letter declared, “the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act will protect consumers from unpredictable price variations and protect farmers and food manufacturers from having to contend with inconsistent and costly regulations."