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Bad GMO Labeling Bill Expected Soon

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A new bill to let food producers decide whether to label GMOs could prevent states from passing mandatory labeling laws. It’s expected to be introduced in the next few weeks—so we need to dissuade potential co-sponsors now! Action Alert!

At the behest of the Monsantos and Cargills of the world, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is expected to reintroduce his Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act in the next week or two. If passed, it would nullify the efforts of ten states that are currently considering bills to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

A bill to do the same thing was introduced in 2014. If the language is the same as before, this bill would give the FDA full authority to label GMOs, and the agency favors a voluntary approach. With a federal framework in place, states would be precluded from setting up their own labeling standards.

The rationale offered by Rep. Pompeo for the bill is that it would avoid a “patchwork quilt of [state]food labeling requirements” across the country that would make it difficult for companies to operate. But if this is the sole reason, then why not introduce a mandatory label on the federal level so there is one cohesive standard?  The real reason for the bill is that the food industry and biotech firms are afraid to tell the public what is actually in their products.

We understand the bill will also contain a new section to create a government-sponsored voluntary certification program for GMO-free foods. Of course, this puts the onus on organic and non-GMO producers to label their products, when it should be the responsibility of those who are introducing new technologies into food production to label their GM products.

The fact is, we essentially already have a voluntary labeling system, and not a single company has elected to label its products that contain GMOs. If Congress passes this bill, Big Food can continue to keep consumers in the dark about what we’re eating.

Rep. Pompeo is adamant about the safety of GMOs, stating that they have “made food safer and more abundant” and have “been an enormous boon to all of humanity.” The PR department of Monsanto couldn’t have put it better. Unfortunately, Rep. Pompeo’s statements simply aren’t true. As we reported in 2012, GE crop yields are not consistently higher than non-GE crops, and genetic engineering can have devastating environmental, economic, and health consequences.  But none of these points have anything to do with whether or not consumers have a right to know whether their foods are genetically modified.

Happily, an overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with Rep. Pompeo and the biotech industry. A 2013 New York Times poll found that 93% of Americans support labeling any food that has been genetically modified.

Pompeo’s bill is also likely to include two other provisions that would hide or obscure information from consumers:

  • Last year’s bill required the FDA to set a maximum permissible level of “inadvertent GMO presence” allowed in foods bearing non-GMO labeling. Honest producers need a safe harbor from unreasonable lawsuits, but this isn’t the way to get there.
  • If left unchanged from its previous version, Pompeo’s bill also would likely lead to FDA defining the term “natural” to include GMO foods.  Although the “natural” standard is largely meaningless anyway, allowing GM products to be labeled as “natural” would further confuse consumers.

This bill is more likely to move than the Boxer/DeFazio mandatory labeling bill, first introduced in 2013, which only has Democratic support in a Republican-controlled House and Senate. Rep. Pompeo’s bill had thirty-seven cosponsors in the last Congress, all of whom were Republicans.

Adding to the urgency of this issue is that the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing today (Tuesday, March 24) on mandatory federal biotech policy. The hearing will likely include a discussion on GMO labeling.

Action Alert! Consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they’re eating! Tell your legislators not to co-sponsor the Pompeo bill, and ask them to speak out at the Agricultural Committee’s hearing. Please send your message immediately!

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