The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted 306 to 117 to approve a bill that requires food companies disclose the presence of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) under a standard that will be adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) and USDA have both interpreted the legislation as immediately preempting state GMO-labeling laws, including Vermont’s Act 120, once it is enacted.
President Obama is expected to sign the bill.
“While there is broad consensus that foods from genetically engineered crops are safe, we appreciate the bipartisan effort to address consumers’ interest in knowing more about their food, including whether it includes ingredients from genetically engineered crops," White House spokeswoman Katie Hill said in an e-mail to Bloomberg in a story published Wednesday. "We look forward to tracking its progress in the House and anticipate the president would sign it in its current form."
The Senate voted last week 63 to 30 to approve the measure, although critics of the legislation claimed it was riddled with loopholes and discriminated against low-income Americans without access to technology. The food industry will have multiple options to make the required disclosures, including via “a text, symbol, or electronic or digital link."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday urged the president to veto the bill.
"The GMO labeling law's principal thrust is to rely on QR codes which shoppers will scan to gain product information relative to GMOs," Jackson said in a letter to Obama, which the Center for Food Safety--another critic of the legislation--made public. "However, 100,000,000 Americans, most of them poor, people of color and elderly either do not own a smart phone or an iPhone to scan the QR code or live in an area of poor internet connectivity. There are serious questions of discrimination presented here and unresolved matters of equal protection of the law."
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which sought to overturn Vermont's Act 120 in federal court, said it was pleased that Congress joined together on the bipartisan legislation to pass the bill.
“Republicans and Democrats found consensus on the common ground that a patchwork of different state labeling laws would be a costly and confusing disaster for the nation’s food supply chain," said Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the trade group, in a statement. “They also joined together to give consumers more access to consistent and helpful information about genetic engineering."
Editor's Note: Looking for more on GMO labeling and consumer expectations? Join us for the GMOs: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities panel discussion on Thursday, Oct. 6, at SupplySide West 2016.