The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a food labeling bill, drawing praise and criticism from various factions in the nationwide debate over whether genetically engineered foods should carry a disclosure.
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act passed through the House by a vote of 275 to 150. The legislation would preempt states from requiring labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods and create a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through which foods could be certified as being produced with or without genetic engineering, with a seal identifying covered products.
“A federal approach to food labeling remains the only way to ensure that Americans everywhere can access accurate information about the food they purchase," said Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which filed a lawsuit last year in federal court to overturn Vermont’s GE labeling law. “HR 1599 is fact-based, common sense legislation that will provide the kind of clarity and consistency in the marketplace for food labels that American consumers deserve."
The Senate must take up the debate, though The Associated Press reported that there is no similar bill in the Senate.
Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina) co-sponsored the House bill. Opponents of mandatory GE labeling have insisted that bioengineered foods are safe and that required labels would burden the food industry. Foods produced through genetic engineering have been in the food supply for about two decades, according to FDA.
“Through the course of several hearings on GMOs, along with the hundreds of safety studies that have been done over the last 20 years, the argument over the safety of GMOs has now been put to rest," Pompeo said, commenting on the bill’s passage, in 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 costs."
Critics have dubbed Pompeo’s bill the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act because it would deprive consumers of the right to know whether genetically modified organisms are contained in their food. Advocates of mandatory labeling point out that 64 countries require labels on GE foods.
“H.R. 1599 is a full-scale attack on consumer’s rights," Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, said Wednesday in a statement before the House vote. “Americans deserve the opportunity to make informed decisions about the food they eat and what they feed their families—an opportunity that China, Russia and Kazakhstan allow their citizens, but not the United States."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have authority under the House bill to require labeling on GE foods, but only if two requirements were satisfied. First, the agency would need to find “a meaningful difference in the functional, nutritional or compositional characteristics, allergenicity or other attributes between" the relevant food and a comparable food. Second, the labeling disclosure must be “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading."
The nonprofit Center for Food Safety expressed disappointment that the House passed the bill.
“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. “Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored. We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy."