WASHINGTON, July 22, 2015 – A bill that would block state GMO labeling laws and set up a process for marketing foods as non-GMO has advanced in the House, setting up a final votes on the measure on Thursday.

The House voted 242-175 to approve a rule that would allow votes on four Democratic amendments to the bill, the Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act (HR 1599). Wednesday’s vote on the rule probably wasn’t indicative of the bill’s likely support, since the rule also covered a coal ash bill that President Obama has threatened to veto.

Supporters are counting on a bigger margin Thursday when the House votes on the biotech bill itself, sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.

Pompeo told Agri-Pulse Wednesday afternoon that he expects nearly every Republican and as many as 50 Democrats to vote for the bill.

The Democratic amendments include one by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, that would kill everything in the bill except for the section setting up a certification process for labeling 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 genetically engineered overseas must label it the same way in the United States.

“It’s a bit ironic that the state’s rights Republicans would be promoting a bill which preempts a large number of states – three states which already have standards and many other states which have considered or are considering GMO labeling,” DeFazio said at a news conference Wednesday ahead of the procedural vote.

DeFazio is sponsoring the antithesis to the Pompeo bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act of 2015 (HR 913), which would require national GMO labeling.

Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, who is sponsoring an amendment to bar foods labeled as “natural” from containing biotech ingredients, said the labeling issue boils down to the consumers right to know, and that companies shouldn’t fear that.

“This is in line with the rights consumers already enjoy as it has been pointed out in over 60 other countries around the world,” DeLauro said, referencing mandatory labeling in other countries. “The rules are designed to help families make informed decisions about the food they eat. What’s is wrong with that?” 

The bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to write a definition of "natural" and would leave it to the agency to decide with biotech ingredients could be included.

Supporters of the bill were keeping the pressure on House members, too. In a letter to lawmakers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said that state GMO labeling requirements “would cost food and beverage manufacturers millions of dollars given the changes to food labels and supply chain systems that would have to be made as a result.”  

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