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House sends GMO labeling bill to President

Bill outlining mandatory disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients passes House with 306-117 vote.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved bipartisan national legislation on the disclosure of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in food. The bill, which the House approved on a 306-117 vote, now goes to President Barack Obama for signing. It was approved 63-30 by the Senate the prior week.

“This is a win-win for every American family in every state,” said Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. (GMA). “The legislation ensures that consumers get more information about genetically engineered ingredients, prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates and provides the same labeling rules to shoppers, regardless of where they live or shop. It is the right solution to increase disclosure of information that consumers are seeking without stigmatizing a safe technology that feeds a hungry and growing world.”

America's farmers rely on agricultural biotechnology to meet the demand of an ever-growing global population while reducing their impact on the environment. The bill passed Thursday ensures that mandatory, on-pack labels do not place an unwarranted stigma on safe, proven technology, many industry members noted.

“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,” American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said.

The American Feed Industry Assn. (AFIA) said passage of the bill marks a monumental win for all — industry and consumers — in the discussion on food labeling for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Leah Wilkinson, AFIA vice president of legislative, regulatory and state affairs, noted, “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.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, said, “By reasserting the federal government's role in regulating food labeling, the Congress is ending the 'death by a thousand cuts' approach of potentially conflicting state laws in this area.”

Mulhern added that the issue has, unfortunately, been one of the most challenging — and important — food policy issues of the 21st century. “We strongly urge President Obama to sign this legislation into law. Once this process is complete, we can begin moving beyond specious arguments over labels, terminology and absence claims and work to address real food safety and nutrition issues and further the sustainability of our food system,” he noted.

Vermont's mandatory on-package GMO labeling law took effect on July 1 and threatens the nation's food supply chain with costly and lasting disruptions. Already, consumers in Vermont are finding fewer products on the shelves, and small businesses are facing higher costs of compliance, Bailey said.

“Food and beverage companies agree on the importance of making available to consumers the information they want about their products. Our innovative SmartLabel technology initiative puts detailed information about thousands of products right at the fingertips of consumers," GMA said. "It will enable consumers to get all the information they want to know about what they are purchasing — and when they want to know it. SmartLabel doesn't replace the package label; it leverages digital technology and provides more information than could ever fit on a package.”

GMA said more than 1,150 products already use SmartLabel and are listed on the SmartLabel.org website. The organization projects that more than 34,000 products will be using SmartLabel by the end of 2017.

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