Led by US Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, and G.K. Butterfield, D-NC, the Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act was reintroduced last week, following a hearing at the House Committee on Agriculture. At the hearing, witnesses argued against any mandatory biotechnology labeling laws.
The bill is supported by nine Republicans and eight Democrats, with a majority of the co-sponsors sitting as members of the House Agriculture or Energy and Commerce Committees. The bill was first introduced in April last year.
“We took the positive feedback we received after our hearing in December and have been meeting with key stakeholders to ensure this is the right policy for both producers and consumers,” Pompeo says. “Our goal is to provide clarity and transparency in food labeling, support innovation and keep food affordable.”
The bill addresses attempts to institute mandatory labeling laws for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) across the country. If passed, the legislation would make FDA the authority on GMO labeling and block any state attempts to label products containing GMOs that some in the food industry say would mislead the public. The federal labeling system would allow companies that wish to advertise their products as GMO free the opportunity to do so, provided they meet national standards. However, the program would not be mandatory.
Last year, Vermont became the first state to require labels on food containing GMOs, other states followed by drafting similar legislation. Yet, the scientific community, FDA and major health organizations have consistently testified on the safety of genetically modified foods.
A hearing at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last year discussed FDA’s role in the regulation of GMOs. The general consensus of the scientific community at the hearing was that GMOs are safe for consumption. Plus, there was some question as to whether a mandatory GMO warning label would be misleading to consumers.
Representatives from across the food industry universally applauded the reintroduction of the bill. “No matter where they live or shop, all Americans deserve to have access to consistent, understandable information about the food they are eating, and this federal legislation would eliminate consumer uncertainty created by a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws, advance food safety, inform consumers and provide consistency in labeling,” says Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
GMOs have been around for years, with 70 to 80 percent of the foods consumed in the US containing genetically modified ingredients, according to GMA.
“A voluntary program, administered by FDA, to evaluate food labels that claim the presence, or absence, of genetically enhanced ingredients will bolster consumer confidence, while giving frozen food and beverage makers the certainty they need to meet the needs of America’s consumers,” says Kraig Naasz, president and CEO of the American Frozen Food Institute.
GMOs remain a murky debate in the eyes of the public, and actions are needed to address the disparity between the scientific community and the public. In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 37 percent of the public regard GMOs as safe compared to 88 percent of scientists. Overall, 57 percent of the public think GMOs are generally unsafe to eat.
But the bill does have its opponents who vocally chastise the legislation as detrimental to both consumers’ and states’ rights. These consumers, and some legislators, have come to dub the bill the DARK act, or the “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act,” which they say is anti-democratic.
The Organic Consumers Association was quick to sound the alarm against the reintroduction of the bill. “The bill will take away the right of states to require GMO labeling and will legalize the routine industry practice of labeling genetically engineered [GE] foods as ‘natural’ or ‘all natural,” says Ronnie Cummins, international director of the OCS. “It also includes a complicated scheme for voluntary labeling of non-GMO foods ... More than 90 percent of consumers want the same basic right that consumers in more than 60 other countries already have—a simple label stating whether or not a product contains GMOs. Research has shown GMO labels will not increase food prices, contrary to industry claims. The sole reason to pass this bill is to keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”
The bill can be read in its entirety here.