WASHINGTON, May 20, 2015 – Critics of biotech foods say that stopping a House bill to preempt state GMO labeling laws would force the food industry to negotiate with labeling proponents.

“We must stop this ‘DARK Act.’ This will bring the companies to the table,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It campaign referring to the bill by the nickname opponents use for the legislation (HR 1599).

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton, R-Mich., told Agri-Pulse on Wednesday that he plans to hold a hearing soon and then move the bill through subcommittee and the full committee by the August recess.  

Under the bill, sponsored by Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., no labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients could be required unless there is a “material difference” between the biotech ingredient and its conventionally bred version. The bill has 47 co-sponsors.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered to provide technical assistance to the effort to pass a labeling preemption bill. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is developing similar legislation in the Senate although it’s not clear when or if the bill can get a hearing.

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The House version is officially called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Opponents call it the "Denying Americans the Right to Know "(DARK) act.

The Just Label It campaign has organized an online petition to pressure PepsiCo, a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and parent company to Quaker Oats, to support mandatory labeling. Some 75,000 people have signed the petition so far, said Hirshberg, co-founder of the organic yogurt company, Stonyfield Farms. GMA is a leading supporter of the Pompeo bill.

Hirshberg was joined at a Capitol Hill news conference by four sponsors of a mandatory GMO labeling bill (HR 913), Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.; Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; and Anne McLane Kuster, D-N.H.

DeFazio, the bill’s lead author, said that the USDA’s plan to provide a “process verified” label for non-GMO foods didn’t remove the need for labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients. Mandatory labeling "would be simpler," he said. 

Just Label It released the results of a recent nationwide poll by the Mellman Group that found that 88 percent of respondents wanted mandatory labeling of foods that have "genetically modified" ingredients.  Eight-six percent of the Republicans and independents surveyed supporting labeling. The poll was conducted by telephone April 28 through May 3 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Opponents of mandatory labeling say that voters have so far voted down labeling measures on state ballots.

“Every time voters have had the chance to delve into the issues and understand the facts, they have rejected mandatory labeling and other anti-GMO measures,” said Claire Parker, spokeswoman for the industry-backed Coalition for Safe Affordable Food.