The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture passed out of committee the H.R. 1599 bill on July 14, which pre-empts states’ rights to label genetically modified organisms or GMOs. With Minnesota representatives Collin Peterson and Tim Walz supporting and Rick Nolan opposing, the committee sent to the House floor a bill to prohibit states from forcing food companies to note the presence of GMOS in their products.
If approved, the law would replace individual state food labeling laws with a single, voluntary nationwide labeling program.
Some say GMOs, introduced into the food system in the 1990s, are unsafe without adequate, independent, pre-market testing. The bill represents a coup for food and chemical industries that fought and failed in court to prohibit mandatory GMO labeling. Individually and through trade associations, big Minnesota food companies such as Land O’Lakes, Cargill, Hormel and General Mills supported the bill that the agriculture committee approved.
Within hours of its passing, it was announced that the bill will go to the House floor as early as next week, with no vote in the Energy and Commerce Committee. If unstopped, the bill will go next to the U.S. Senate, before summer’s end.
Should the bill be passed by the House and Senate and be signed into law by the president, it will do what the courts refused to do: Stop Vermont from implementing a mandatory GMO labeling law next year. Maine and Connecticut also have passed GMO labeling laws that would be reversed.
The House, which is Republican-run, should easily pass the labeling bill. Prospects in the GOP-run Senate remain uncertain because of discrepancies in how debate is conducted and because of light Democratic support.
Groups lobbying for mandatory GMO labeling said they are increasing their efforts to make sure that H.R. 1599, dubbed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, never becomes law. "The real fight will be in the Senate," states Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label It, an advocacy group pushing for mandated labeling. "This is far from over."
Other opponents of the bill say it's objectionable not only because it would overturn state GMO labeling laws, but because it also prevents state and local governments from regulating GMO crops, and would keep the Food and Drug Administration from creating a mandatory GMO labeling standard. Mandatory labeling would raise food prices, they say, as well as confuse consumers without cause, as GMOs are well regulated and are no less safe or nutritious than foods made with non-GMO ingredients.
As the issues over GMO labeling have come to the surface recently, several food-related companies have removed GMO ingredients from their products.
Labeling supporters claim that consumers have a right to know if GMOs are in their food, adding that there is a lack of scientific consensus on the safety and concerns about the herbicide glyphosate, which is widely used on genetically modified crops. Residues of the pesticide have been discovered in foods, and earlier this year, research from the World Health Organization revealed that it was classifying glyphosate as "probably" cancer-causing for humans.