The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted 306-117 to pass the compromise federal bill that would require a mandatory labeling system of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for all 50 states.
The bill is expected to be signed by the President Barack Obama in its current form. It was passed a week ago by the Senate in a 63-30 vote.
The measure would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine which food products and ingredients should be labeled as GMO. Those products would be labeled by text, symbols or a bar code that can be scanned with smartphones. The USDA would have two years to develop the rules and regulations for the nationwide labeling program.
The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would pre-empt a bill set to take effect in Vermont that was set to take effect on July 1. Critics of the Vermont legislation have said that even though it is a Vermont law, it would have a widespread nationwide impact requiring food companies from other states that sell in Vermont to comply with the law. It would also create the potential for a patchwork of different state laws that would be cumbersome and confusing, adversaries say.
Ag groups commend passage
The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) all commended Congress in its swift passage of the bill.
“Today’s passage of this legislation marks a monumental win for all – industry and consumers – in the discussion on food labeling. The passage also serves as affirmation by Congress (that) GE (genetically engineered) food products are equally as safe and nutritious as their counterparts,” AFIA said in a statement.
“AFIA is pleased the confusion surrounding animal food products will be minimized by requiring disclosure for human food only. Products derived from animals fed GE ingredients are also not required to display a label. State pre-emption in the bill does apply to all food – the term ‘food’ being all encompassing (human and animal) by federal definition – thereby ensuring one national standard.
“This decision proves Congress understands the need for a national standard, not a patchwork system, when it comes to those supplying food and animal feed, and those purchasing it.”
The NGFA also praised the legislation for clarifying labeling rules.
“This legislation pre-empts the Vermont law and averts further delay and uncertainty,” said NGFA President Randy Gordon in a statement. “The supply chain that provides the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply the world has ever seen needs certainty on this issue, which makes it vitally important to enact a solution as quickly as possible that does not misinform consumers or denigrate crop technology and innovations that time and time again have been scientifically proven to be safe for consumers and the environment.”
The AFBF, in its statement, reinforced the safety of GMO crops and the importance of providing accurate information to consumers.
“Today’s House passage of GMO disclosure legislation means we now begin the work of putting in place a uniform, national labeling system that will provide balanced, accurate information to consumers,” the AFBF said in its statement. “Genetically engineered crops have a decades-long track record of safety and benefits for agricultural productivity and our environment. This legislation helps to continue those benefits by avoiding the confusion of differing and potentially misleading labeling standards from state to state.”