States would not be allowed to enact any mandatory affirmative label for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or ingredients from GMOs in human food under bipartisan legislation proposed this morning by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).
Pompeo, in a briefing with members of the North American Agricultural Journalists earlier in the week, said the legislation would make mandatory a review by the Food and Drug Administration to certify the product as safe, Farm Futures reports.
Currently, the USDA and the federal Environmental Protection Agency review proposed new GMO foods to assure that they are substantially the same as their traditional counterparts and do not pose a threat to the environment in terms of soil, water or air pollution.
Pompeo proposes to make the FDA review mandatory before the product is commercially released and would require it to be labeled only if the FDA found reason that the public needed a warning about consumption—that it might in some way cause allergic reaction or other adverse effect.
“I think the public has come to expect that kind of label as a warning and that adding it to all GMO foods would be misleading,” Pompeo said.
He reveals the proposed law would not make it illegal for a manufacturer to label a product “GMO Free,” but would require that manufacturers be prepared to prove that label accurate. The same would apply to “organic” and “all natural” labels.
Pompeo says he expects hearings on the legislation in the next month or two. He also says it has bipartisan support and is a result of months of talks in the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bill is labeled the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Pompeo says it would apply only to human food and FDA review would not be required for GMOs intended as pet food or animal feed.
“There is a consensus that this is the way to go; to set a statutory requirement at the federal level and head off a 50-state patchwork of different regulatory requirements,” he said, noting that he does not expect industry opposition because the process is already voluntary and widely used.
“To my knowledge, there is not a single product on the market that didn’t go through this process,” he said.
Several groups have already released statements of support for the legislation, including the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, of which the ASA is a member.
According to the ASA, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would direct FDA to provide guidance for companies that wish to label their products for the presence or absence of GMOs; make mandatory an FDA safety review of all new GMO traits before they are brought to market and enable FDA to mandate labels on any product shown to pose a health, safety or nutrition risk; and directs FDA to define the term “natural” for use on food labels. Additionally, the bill would eliminate a large potential source of confusion among consumers by establishing FDA’s labeling guidance as the national standard and preventing states from enacting a patchwork of conflicting requirements.
“This bill is a commonsense, science-based approach to an issue we realize is close to the hearts and minds of so many consumers,” said Iowa farmer and ASA President Ray Gaesser. “Americans want to know that their food is safe, and the solutions proposed in this bill will ensure that they have that information. It will require that the FDA review all new GMO traits for safety, and stipulate that the FDA require labels for any product that has a safety or health risk. It will allow companies to voluntarily label foods as non-GMO and enable those consumers who wish purchase non-GMO foods to do so. Importantly, however, it won’t force consumers to pay more for food just because some interests want to require mandatory labeling of safe and healthy foods made with GMOs.”
Economic studies show that an average family of four would pay about $500 more per year for groceries under mandatory GMO labeling schemes being considered in some states.
In addition to Pompeo, Gaesser praises the bill’s co-sponsors—G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) for their foresight in championing the bill.
“Congressmen Pompeo and Butterfield and each of the sponsors of this bill have taken a brave and progressive step,” Gaesser said. “The conversation surrounding GMOs is one that has been crowded with misinformation and hyperbole on all sides but, at its core, must be about science. The congressmen realize that my fellow farmers and I use these tools—each of which represents a revolutionary and proven-safe scientific advance—to be more productive while consuming fewer resources. They are to be commended for pursuing a science-based step forward on GMOs, and we call on the Energy and Commerce Committee to move forward with hearings on the bill as quickly as possible.
“Genetically modified soybeans have been in widespread use by American farmers since 1997. Not only have these applications been repeatedly tested and proven safe by the world’s most stringent food safety testing system, they have been so without a single documented instance of a human or animal health risk. Not one. That’s why, as farmers, we grow them, and as consumers, we feed them to our families,” he added. “It’s time that we have a reasonable, science-based discussion on GMOs and this bill helps get us there.”
Martin Barbre, president of the National Corn Growers Association, a member of the Coalition for Save Affordable Food, said, “The introduction of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act was an important first step to restoring sanity to America’s food labeling laws. GMOs are perfectly safe and America’s farmers rely on this proven technology to protect our crops from insects, weeds and drought. Important food safety and labeling decisions should be made by the scientists and qualified policymakers at the FDA, not political activists and campaigns. A federal solution on GMO labeling will bolster consumer confidence in the safety of American food, while giving farmers and food producers the certainty we need to continue providing safe, affordable food for America’s families.”