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House Passes Biotech Labeling Act; President’s Desk Is Next Stop

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The U.S. House has voted 306-117 in favor of final passage of S. 764, the Roberts-Stabenow Biotech Labeling Act. Industry groups are praising the House for passing the bill, which is now on the desk of President Obama. Media reports have indicated that the president is likely to sign the bill.

If signed, the law would create a national standard for labeling foods with ingredients derived through biotechnology, whether genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). States also would be pre-empted from enacting their own laws. Vermont’s GMO labeling law went into effect July 1 and has caused supply disruptions due to companies not being willing and/or able to comply with the state mandate, according to several published reports.

Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and co-chair of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF), which lobbied for the bill, said, “After more than two years working with Senators and House Members from both parties, today’s vote is a resounding victory not only for consumers and common sense, but also for the tremendous coalition of agricultural and food organizations that came together in unprecedented fashion to get this solution passed. Our entire coalition of agriculture and food groups sincerely thanks House Agricultural Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, Congressman Collin Peterson, Congressmen Mike Pompeo and G.K. Butterfield, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Senator Debbie Stabenow for their critical leadership on this issue, and all members of Congress who voted to create a more transparent disclosure system while preventing the costly effects of a patchwork of state labeling laws.”

Her counterpart at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), Leslie G. Sarasin, said, “Today, the House of Representatives agreed that a national labeling standard is critical to U.S. grocery shoppers’ desire to seek out consistent, accurate information regarding product ingredients. FMI’s consumer trends data indicate food retail customers are confident in the safety of the food they buy in their local supermarkets, but are also increasingly interested in the origins and ingredients of their food.”

Sarasin added that the legislation “avoids the consumer confusion and crippling limitations to interstate commerce that already are erupting under the current Vermont law and would be multiplied further by a developing patchwork of differing, and therefore confusing, state GMO labeling laws. One single national labeling standard circumvents all disadvantages that a multitude of conflicting state GMO labeling laws would inevitably create.”

Another benefit to the national legislation, Sarasin said, is that it would eliminate the need for warehouses to segregate food product based on varying state requirements and allows businesses to continue sourcing the products their customers want to buy.

Bailey, speaking on behalf of GMA, said, “This is a win-win for every American family in every state. The legislation ensures that consumers get more information about genetically engineered ingredients, prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates, and provides the same labeling rules to shoppers regardless of where they live or shop. It is the right solution to increase disclosure of information that consumers are seeking without stigmatizing a safe technology that feeds a hungry and growing world.”

GMA already has devised the SmartLabel, which gives consumers information about thousands of products via the SmartLabel.org website.

“We project that more than 34,000 products will be using SmartLabel by the end of 2017,” Bailey said.

National Grocers Association President and CEO Peter J. Larkin, said, “This bill offers the needed certainty for stakeholders throughout the food supply chain, and more importantly for consumers. We appreciate the House for its swift action to pass this bill and are especially grateful for the leadership provided by Chairman Conaway and Roberts, Ranking Members Peterson and Stabenow, and Congressmen Pompeo and Butterfield who all worked to advance a common sense, bipartisan solution.

“I’d also like to thank our members for their engagement in the political process, which resulted in thousands of calls and letters sent to Capitol Hill,” Larkin added.

Numerous other organizations, including the International Dairy Foods Association and the American Soybean Association, expressed their appreciation for the House passing the bill just one week after the Senate passed it.


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