GMO bill altered to restrict milk labeling, regulate 'natural foods'

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 13, 2015 - A GMO regulation bill set for approval in a House committee Wednesday has been changed to ensure that milk could only be certified as non-GMO if the cows are fed non-biotech grain.

The latest draft of the bill that the House Agriculture Committee will consider also would require the Food and Drug Administration to write definitions for labeling foods as “natural.” The regulations for natural foods were included in the original bill introduced this spring but were dropped from a second version circulated in June. FDA would decide whether the definition of "natural" would include genetically engineered crops.

Lets Talk Food

The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act (HR 1599) would bar states from requiring the labeling of food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and would set up a new certification process at USDA for foods labeled as non-GMO.

The bill also would alter the review process for new biotech crops. Developers would be required get FDA's safety approval for a new genetically engineered crop before the Agriculture Department could OK it for commercial use. The FDA review process is now voluntary.

The bill could go to the House floor before the end of the month.

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The requirement for the use of non-biotech feed in non-GMO milk was the result of negotiations with the organic industry, said Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. “We have attempted to get the broadest possible interest in food and agriculture behind us as we possibly can," he said.

The requirement for non-biotech feed would also apply to meat labeled as non-GMO.

The latest version of the bill also would allow state departments of agriculture to serve as certifying agents for non-GMO and GMO crops.

The legislation, which currently has 68 cosponsors, including 14 Democrats, is becoming increasingly urgent for farmers, the biotech industry and food companies with Vermont's state labeling law set to take effect in 2016 unless a court strikes it down.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees FDA, has joint jurisdiction with House Agriculture on the bill, but Energy and Commerce could waive its right to consider the measure, speeding its path to the floor.

The path forward in the Senate remains unclear. Supporters have struggled to find a Senate Democrat who will agree to co-sponsor a bill, but Conner said many Senate Democrats have privately expressed support for the legislation. They agree that allowing states to regulate GMO labeling “would be a disaster,” he said.

A summary of the latest version of the bill is here


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