LEGISLATION to codify the Food & Drug Administration as the authority on the use and labeling of foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients was introduced April 9 by lead sponsor Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) and a handful of other representatives.
The bipartisan Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 amends the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act to establish a federal labeling standard for food and beverage products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and pre-empts states' individual mandates that call for differing labels.
Pompeo explained that the bill allows new biotechnology products to be submitted to FDA for review, and if FDA finds that there is a reason to label a product for health or safety concerns, the agency could do so.
The bill would require FDA to establish federal standards for companies that want to voluntarily label their product for the absence or presence of GM food ingredients so consumers clearly understand their choices in the marketplace. It also directs FDA to define the term "natural" for use on food labels.
Pompeo noted that these products are already heavily regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency and said FDA's role is currently voluntary.
"This simply adds a mandatory component of FDA and allows the third leg of the regulatory stool to make sure our food products are safe," he said.
Pompeo was joined on a press call with Stacy Forshee, who farms 2,000 acres and has a cow/calf herd in Kansas with her husband. She said it is unreasonable to increase food prices an estimated $400 per family per year simply because "food activists want to put a label on food.
"Food activists have a right to choose what they eat," she said, but putting an additional financial and regulatory burden on everyone is "immoral and wrong."
"This bill is a commonsense, science-based approach to an issue we realize is close to the hearts and minds of so many consumers," American Soybean Assn. president Ray Gaesser added. "Americans want to know that their food is safe, and the solutions proposed in this bill will ensure that they have that information. However, it won't force consumers to pay more for food just because some interests want to require mandatory labeling of safe and healthy foods made with GMOs."
An estimated 80% of food on U.S. shelves currently contains some trace of GMOs due to the large amounts of biotech corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. However, an increasing effort in more than half of the states to try to craft legislation or pass initiatives requiring the labeling of GM foods has caused many in the food industry to join forces in hopes of preventing a patchwork labeling approach, which could disrupt interstate commerce and increase food prices.
Other sponsors of the legislation include Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D., N.C.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), Jim Matheson (D., Utah) and Ed Whitfield (R., Ky.), but Pompeo said he anticipates that more members will sign on now that the bill has been introduced.
He expects work on the bill to pick up this summer and would like to see a hearing scheduled in June or July to further vet the topic, after which he said he is hopeful that the bill will "have the votes in the House to bring it through committee and on to the floor for passage."
So far, no sponsor has surfaced in the Senate. Pompeo said the topic is "not a partisan issue" but instead spans the full political spectrum.
The bill likely faces an uphill battle, given that the labeling issue has been brought to the forefront in recent years after state initiatives in California and Washington spent millions of dollars trying to educate consumers.
American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman welcomed the opportunity for "national-level discussions that will affirm FDA's role in assuring consumers about GMO safety and reduce the confusion that would result from a patchwork of state labeling initiatives."
The Farm Bureau, which represents all types of production practices, said it must support science-based regulations. Stallman said his group will "stand adamantly opposed to those who want to take tools and technologies away from America's farmers and affordable choices away from consumers."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Cal.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) introduced bills in April 2013 that would mandate GMO labeling, but neither saw further action by committees. Also, during the farm bill debate, the Senate voted down an attempt that would have required mandatory labeling.