House Ag leaders: GMO labeling bill does not preempt cultivation bans

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 17, 2015- Proponents of a bill that would bar states from requiring the labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are attempting to clear away confusion about the intent of the legislation, which is expected on the House floor next week.

The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act (HR 1599), first introduced by Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., was approved Tuesday by the House Agriculture Committee on a voice vote during a 15-minute meeting.

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Supporters are pushing back against a claim made by advocates for mandatory GMO labeling who say the bill would preempt state and local laws limiting cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

Local government ordinances restricting GMO crops have been in place for several years in states including California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.

The Center for Food Safety issued a statement after the House Agriculture Committee passed Pompeo's bill, stating that it not only preempts state labeling laws but, “would…undemocratically nullify numerous state and counties laws that have existed across the country for over a decade.”

In a similar statement, the Environmental Working Group said the bill would “stop state and local governments from regulating any process related to production of GMO crops.”

The labeling bill represents “drastic government overreach by undermining the ability of state or local governments from placing safeguards around production of GMO crops,” the Just Label It campaign asserted.

However, House Agriculture Committee staff familiar with the bill insist that the writers included no language nor any intent to preempt state laws regulating crop cultivation.

The bill says that no state can establish or continue any law related to “any food in interstate commerce” or to the use of GE plants “for a use or application in food” that does not follow the bill's requirements.

In a joint statement issued Friday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., reiterated that sentiment.

“The bill that the House of Representatives will soon consider provides preemption solely for food use and labeling,” the committee leaders said. “The preemption provision does not delve into areas beyond this - such as cultivation of crops.”

The legislation would preempt existing state labeling laws, including one passed in Vermont that mandates labels on GMO foods. The Vermont law, which is being challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, is scheduled for implementation in 2016.

HR 1599 would also set up a new certification process at USDA for foods labeled as non-GMO, and would require the Food and Drug Administration to write definitions for labeling foods as “natural.”

Supporters say the intent of the legislation, which is cosponsored by 106 members, is to avoid a patchwork of state labeling laws that would include variations and exemptions, making food labels even more confusing.  

However, during the committee markup last week, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a leading opponent of the legislation, said “more than 90 percent of Americans want to know if their food contains GMOs, and they ought to be able to know that information.”

Just Label It supporters indicated last week that they would ramp up opposition to the bill as it moves forward. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm and the Just Label It campaign, claimed in a statement that “the big food and chemical companies behind this bill want to strip people of the right to know about their food.”

The House is expected to vote on the bill later next week. There is still no Democratic co-sponsor for the companion bill that Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., plans to introduce in the Senate.

 

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