WASHINGTON, July 22, 2015 –The effort to block state GMO labeling laws gets its first big test Thursday as the House votes on the Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act. The big question is not whether it will pass but how large the margin will be.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, the Kansas Republican who first introduced the bill (HR 1599) more than a year ago, says he expects broad Republican support, plus a significant percentage of the Democratic caucus.
Senate Democrats have been reluctant so far to agree to co-sponsor a companion bill being developed by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., but a big House margin Thursday could “speed that up,” said Denzel McGuire, executive vice president of government relations at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to have a hearing on the issue in September. Hoeven said the bill won’t be introduced before September.
The House on Wednesday will debate a rule that would allow votes on four Democratic amendments, including one by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, that would kill everything in the bill except for a section setting up a certification process for non-GMO products.
Another amendment, by Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would essentially set up a mandatory labeling system by requiring that any company that labels a product as GMO overseas must label it the same way in the United States.
An amendment by Rosa DeLauro, D-Calif., would bar foods labeled as “natural” from containing genetically engineered ingredients. The bill requires the Food and Drug Administration to define the term “natural” and leaves it up to the agency to decide whether GMOs would qualify.
The fourth amendment would ensure that tribes could restrict the cultivation of biotech crops.
The Rules Committee debate on the bill Tuesday evening provided a taste of what the floor debate will be like. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking member of House Agriculture, told fellow Democrats on the committee that supporters of GMO labeling were driven by dislike for conventional agriculture. He emphasized repeatedly that GMO labeling is “a marketing issue, not a food safety issue.”
Committee member Jared Polis, D-Colo., then took a shot at conventional agriculture, telling Peterson he prefers to buy organic products even if they cost more. “I’d rather not gamble with the health of my kids because of insecticides and hormones and the dangerous byproducts of conventional agriculture.”
Ahead of the floor debate, nearly 500 national and state food and agriculture organizations sent a letter to House members endorsing the bill. The bill would “protect consumers from unpredictable price variations and protect farmers and food manufacturers from having to contend with inconsistent and costly regulations,” the letter says.
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