Coming soon: National GMO label law fight

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2015-- The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, which consists of 37 trade groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, is gearing up to push for a federal labeling bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.

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The bill would require that all new foods containing GMO ingredients being brought to the market must 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), have dubbed it the DARK Act, or the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.

Randy Russell of the agriculture consulting firm The Russell Group, said the trade group coalition will boost efforts to pass Pompeo's bill next year. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Pompeo serves, is expected to hold a hearing on the legislation in December.


“Our focus right now is getting the coalition refocused, reinvigorated and fully committed to a federal bill,” Russell said. With state labeling initiatives coming up for votes every year, “legislation like Pompeo's is needed now more than ever,” he said.

Colorado voters rejected a ballot measure in the mid-term elections that would have mandated labels for some food products made with genetically modified ingredients. In final tallies posted Monday night, a similar measure in Oregon lost by about 800 votes and is now likely headed for an automatic recount.A final decision on whether a recount is required is expected next week.  

In recent years, notable labeling measures in Washington and California failed. Only Vermont has passed a GMO labeling law without any “trigger” clauses requiring neighboring states to do the same.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Snack Food Association (SFA), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) filed a lawsuit against the state of Vermont, saying the labeling mandate unconstitutionally compels speech and interferes with interstate commerce. 

Some food companies, including Ben and Jerry's, Beanfields Snacks and Clif Bar and Co. are supporting the Vermont bill in court.

Legislation has been introduced in over 20 states and more states are gathering signatures for mandatory GMO labeling initiatives next fall. “This is going to continue until we get federal solution,” Russell said. “It's not going to be easy, but the alternative is a patchwork of state laws that will have a major economic cost and be a threat to the technology itself.”

Along with the House hearing, GMO labeling efforts and debates over the topic will continue immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday. Next week, chefs will gather on Capitol Hill to promote mandatory GMO labeling.  They plan to deliver a petition signed by 500 chefs to demand mandatory labeling of products made with GMOs and offer support for legislation sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would require a federal label on genetically modified foods.

Also next week, Charles Benbrook, research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, will debate Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer Robert Fraley and UC Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam on the general topic of GMOs at an event in New York.

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