GMO labeling bill sails through House panel

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, July 14, 2015 - The House Agriculture Committee swiftly approved a bill that would bar states from requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act (HR 1599), which was approved on a voice vote in a brief, 15-minute meeting, could be on the House floor as soon as next week. Opponents of the bill on the committee, led by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., did not request a roll-call vote.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration, is expected to waive its right to vote on the legislation. While the administration has not taken a position on the bill, the Agriculture Department and FDA assisted with drafting it. 

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The bill would stop states from requiring the labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients and would set up a new certification process at USDA for foods labeled as non-GMO.

The  revised version of the bill that the committee approved would ensure that milk could only be labeled as non-GMO if the cows are fed non-biotech grain. ” The new version also would require the FDA to write regulations for labeling foods as "natural." The requirement for regulating natural foods was included in the original bill introduced this spring by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., but the provision was dropped from a second version circulated in June.

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The ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, estimated that 50 to 60 Democrats could support the bill on the House floor. He told the committee that the bill should satisfy consumer demand "to know more about where their food comes from," but McGovern disagreed. "Passing this bill doesn't make this issue go away," he said.

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