Months after the bill was introduced and an initial hearing was planned, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will finally meet on Dec. 10 to consider legislation that would preempt state efforts to mandate labeling of food made from genetically engineered crops.
Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., both members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the bill – the Safe and Accurate Labeling Act — earlier this year. It would create a federal standard for voluntarily labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods. The bill, which is backed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other members of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, aims to stem the tide of state legislative efforts to mandate labeling of food products containing genetically modified ingredients.
The bill would require that all new foods containing GMO ingredients being brought to the market first undergo a review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It would preempt any mandatory state labeling law, because foods would not need to be labeled if they are deemed safe by FDA.
Critics of the bill, including the Just Label It campaign and the Environmental Working Group (EWG), call it the DARK Act, or the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.
“I don’t believe this is a partisan issue,” Pompeo told reporters in April when he introduced the bill. “This technology is absolutely essential to feed billions of people on this planet.”
The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, which consists of 37 trade groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, is organizing to boost support for Pompeo’s bill.
“Our focus right now is getting the coalition refocused, reinvigorated and fully committed to a federal bill,” said Randy Russell of the The Russell Group lobbying firm. With state labeling initiatives coming up for votes every year, “legislation like Pompeo’s is needed now more than ever,” he said.
Mandatory GMO labeling bills have has been introduced in over 20 states and more initiatives are in the works.
Colorado voters rejected a ballot measure in the midterm elections that would have mandated labels for some food products made with GMOs. A similar measure in Oregon lost by about 800 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast and is now headed for an automatic recount.
In recent years, food and agriculture companies spent millions of dollars to fight labeling ballot initiatives that ultimately failed in California and Washington. So far, only Vermont has passed a GMO labeling law without any “trigger” clauses requiring neighboring states to do the same.
The GMA, the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit against the state of Vermont, saying the labeling mandate unconstitutionally compels speech and interferes with interstate commerce.
Opponents of Pompeo’s law, including the Environmental Working Group and the Center for Food Safety, support legislation introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would require mandatory labeling nationwide. Celebrity chefs took their case to Capitol Hill Tuesday to support their bill.