In March, a House Agriculture Committee hearing examined the costs and impacts of mandatory biotechnology labeling. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 was subsequently introduced in the House to establish a voluntary certification process run by the USDA for foods labeled non-GMO. If enacted, the legislation would counteract ongoing efforts in some states to mandate labeling of GMO foods.
The FDA’s current policy about GMO food is that it has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful way or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. Therefore, the FDA requires special labeling of GMO foods only under specific conditions, including if the food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart, if the food has a significantly different nutritional property, or if it contains an allergen that a consumer would not expect to be present in that food.
Consumer groups, including the Non-GMO Project, Center for Food Safety, and others, have called for mandatory labeling of GMO foods and have circulated the “Just Label It” petition stating that the public has a right to know whether food ingredients have been genetically modified. Mandatory labeling initiatives have recently been introduced at the state level, with Vermont the first to approve mandatory labels, and legislation is pending in 26 other states.
A state-by-state solution could potentially pose problems for interstate commerce, according to speakers at the House Agriculture Committee hearing. Thomas W. Dempsey Jr., president and CEO of the Snack Food Association, told the committee that if no federal solution is found, manufacturers will be left with several options: comply with each state’s labeling law, order new packaging for products, reformulate products so that no labeling is required, or halt sales to that state. “Each option is difficult, costly, time intense, and at worst, could eliminate jobs and consumer choice in the marketplace,” he says.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and others are saying that individual state efforts to inform consumers about GMO foods will be overturned if the new House bill is enacted. Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG, says that “not a single company has ever voluntarily disclosed the presence of GMOs in its food. Voluntary labeling does nothing to solve the confusion consumers face at the supermarket.”
Holliman is a veteran journalist with extensive experience covering a variety of industries. Reach her at email@example.com.