House committee approves food labeling bill

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON – The House Committee on Agriculture on July 14 approved HR 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. The bill, which was introduced in March by Reps. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, has evolved through bipartisan discussions between the Agriculture Committee and the Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee. 

US Rep. K. Michael Conaway
K. Michael Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

“I appreciate the collaborative efforts of the Energy and Commerce Committee in getting this bipartisan legislation completed and approved today,” said Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “HR 1599 is the solution to an urgent and growing problem. The current patchwork system of varied labels interferes with the free flow of goods across the country, posing a real threat to interstate commerce and typically results in inconsistent and confusing information for consumers. Creating a uniform national policy regarding biotechnology labeling is the free market solution that will allow consumers access to meaningful information, create market opportunities for those on the production and processing side, and will facilitate future innovation.”

Representative Rodney Davis, chairman of the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research, thanked Conaway and Pompeo for their work on the bill. 

US Rep. Rodney Davis
Rodney Davis, chairman of the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research.

“As a parent, I believe it is important to have national and reliable food labels, and this bill does that by allowing for an effective, uniform labeling system that consumers can trust,” Davis said. “Without a national standard, we risk the spread of misinformation and increased food costs. Just as consumers can go to the grocery store and identify organic products, this bill will allow them to do the same with GMO-free products.”

However, the Center for Food Safety, which opposes the amendment, said HR 1599 denies voters “the right to pass state bills and label genetically engineered foods" makes a federal mandatory labeling law impossible.

In a statement on the group’s website organization said Pompeo’s “Denying Americans the Right to Know Act” (Dark Act), would prevent states from passing local GMO labeling laws while continuing a “failed 14-year “voluntary” labeling policy.”

“The bill also seeks to create a federal certification process for voluntary non-GMO labels,” the center argued. “While non-GMO marketing claims allow companies to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, the labeling of non-GE foods and organic foods is limited to only about 2 percent of products on the shelves and is not a substitute for mandatory disclosure.”

The organization noted that “a total of zero companies” have voluntarily labeled food containing GMO ingredients.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) praised the passage of the bill.

“Today’s House Agriculture Committee vote is further evidence of the growing support and momentum in Congress for this bill, and we urge the full House to pass it before the August recess,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the GMA. “This critically important bipartisan legislation will ensure that Americans have accurate, consistent information about their food rather than a 50-state patchwork of labeling laws that will only prove costly and confusing for consumers, farmers and food manufacturers. 

Pamela G. Bailey, president of Grocery Manufacturers of America
Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the GMA

“It is imperative that the House and Senate move quickly to pass the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” Bailey added. “It will put a science-based framework in place that provides consumers across the country with uniform food labeling standards.”

The American Soybean Association (ASA) also applauded the House Agriculture Committee for marking up and approving the bill.

“Consumers continue to demand more transparency and accountability from food producers,” said Wade Cowan, president of the ASA and a soybean farmer from Brownfield, Texas. “This bill ensures that a multi-state patchwork of state regulations is avoided.” Cowan said the ASA is now engaged in efforts to garner chamber-wide support for the bill.

 

Wade Cowan, president, American Soybean Association
Wade Cowan, president of the ASA

“We’ve seen that the effort to bring clarity to the GMO labeling debate has significant support on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “It’s clear that consumers want practical solutions that give them the confidence they want in their food, and this legislation does exactly that. In the coming weeks, we’ll meet with every lawmaker in soybean country to urge them to support this legislation. It’s a bill that moves us closer to a science-based dialogue on food and farm issues, and we will encourage every member of the House to get behind it.”

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