H.R. 1599, authored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), provides clarity and uniformity for the labeling of food products containing genetically engineered plants or ingredients, seeking to eliminate confusion among consumers.
It affirms the current authority of the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to ensure the safety of genetically engineered plants used in food products.
The bill codifies FDA current practice regarding requirements for labeling of genetically engineered plant ingredients in food which are materially different from comparable foods, such as having different nutritional or allergenic effects from traditional foods.
It creates uniform national standards for labeling of food products containing genetically engineered plants or ingredients.
In order to eliminate the confusion created by inconsistent and misleading claims, this bill defines “genetic engineering” so that those wishing to make voluntary marketing claims related to use or non-use of these technologies can do so. In this way, the bill aligns treatment of labeling requirements for foods containing genetic engineering with current standards for labeling organically grown food products.
It also requires the FDA to establish standards for the term “natural” when applied to foods.
The bill was prompted by a Vermont state law on biotechnology food labeling which threatened to generate a patchwork of differing state and local labeling requirements. This patchwork would have created unnecessary confusion and cost among consumers and food manufacturers without achieving the goal of improving consumer awareness of public health.
“Mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution. Congress is right to be moving toward a more sensible policy that allows companies to label products as free of GM ingredients but preempts states from requiring such labels. … Promoters of compulsory GM food labeling claim that consumers nevertheless deserve transparency about what they’re eating. But given the facts, mandatory labeling would be extremely misleading to consumers — who, the Pew polling shows, exaggerate the worries about “Frankenfood” — implying a strong government safety concern where one does not exist. Instead of demanding that food companies add an unnecessary label, people who distrust the assurances that GM food is safe can buy food voluntarily labeled as organic or non-GM. This isn’t just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety. If GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.”
— Editorial, “We don’t need labels on genetically modified foods,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2015