Bill introduced that preempts state GMO labeling efforts

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014 -- Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., both members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, are introducing a bill today that creates a federal standard for voluntarily labeling foods that are not genetically modified and requires additional reviews for foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, or “GMO” foods.

Lets Talk Food

The "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” aims to stem the tide of state legislative efforts to mandate labeling of food products containing genetically modified ingredients. The measure is backed by the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, whose members include the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Introduction of the bill in the Republican-controlled House is a big first step, backers say. Critics suggest any similar efforts will have trouble gaining traction in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority.

“I don't believe this is a partisan issue,” Pompeo told a small group of reporters Tuesday afternoon. “This technology is absolutely essential to feed billions of people on this planet.”

Pompeo emphasized that under the legislation, companies would not be prohibited from labeling their products as free of GMOs, but the bill does preempt any state ballot initiatives or bills that attempt to create a GMO label for products produced with biotechnology.

It would also require a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review of GMO foods with new biotechnology traits before they are introduced in the marketplace. Because FDA recognizes GMO foods as safe for human consumption, it does not currently mandate labels for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Under the bill's language, FDA would be required to complete a safety review of every new GMO food that companies want to put on the market for human consumption. Companies often voluntarily submit products for FDA review under the current system, but it is a “big jump” for the industry to commit to the mandatory process, Pompeo said. He suggested that the alternative of numerous, varying state labeling laws would be far more burdensome.

Members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association include Cargill, The Coca-Cola Company, Dean Foods and Safeway, among many others.

The Center for Food Safety, one of the groups supporting state-by-state GMO labeling initiatives, criticized the Grocery Manufacturers Association's effort, claiming the federal law would mislead consumers about the food supply. “Voluntary labeling is an absolutely ineffective policy solution and is not a substitute for mandatory labeling,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for food Safety.

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