H.R. 1599 - which anti-GMO activists have dubbed the DARK Act ('Denying Americans the Right-to-Know') - would pre-empt state laws that mandate GMO labeling (such as Act 120 in Vermont) and set up a federal voluntary 'non-GMO' labeling system run by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.
Under the proposed federal legislation, which was introduced by Mike Pompeo (R-KS), firms would also be allowed to make 'natural' claims on foods made with ingredients from genetically engineered (GE) crops - which supporters hope will stop civil litigation over this issue from clogging up the court system.
Labeling of a food made with GE ingredients would only be required if two conditions are met:
1. There is “a meaningful difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between the food so produced and its comparable food”;
2. The labeling is “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading”.
Meanwhile, food manufacturers will be permitted to claim that a food is non-GMO if the ingredients are subject to certain supply chain process controls, and cannot state or imply that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods.
The bill would also allow a food to be labeled non-GMO if it is produced with a genetically engineered processing aid or enzyme, or derived from animals fed GE feed or given GE drugs (a different set of standards than the Non-GMO Project - which excludes foods in which genetic engineering has been used at any stage of its manufacture).
GMA: Bill protects consumers from a costly and confusing 50 state patchwork of labeling laws
The passage of HR1599 was welcomed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which called on the US Senate to "move quickly on a companion bill and pass it this year".
It is also good news for manufacturers who felt stuck between a rock and a hard place following the passage of state GMO labeling laws such as Act 120 in Vermont (which comes into force in 2016 - but would be derailed by HR1599), said the GMA:
"HR 1599 protects the consumer from a costly and confusing 50 state patchwork of labeling laws by ensuring that the federal government retains its authority at the top of America’s food safety pyramid. It would also create a single, unified standard for food to be labeled as 'GMO free' as part of a USDA program modeled after the popular USDA Organics program."
CFS: Big food has won
However, anti-GMO groups roundly condemned the bill, with Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, arguing that, “Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored."
Enjoy Life Foods: This will strengthen the Non-GMO Project
Joel Warady, chief marketing officer of allergy-friendly firm Enjoy Life Foods (now part of Mondelez International) told FoodNavigator-USA that he believed a federal solution on the GMO labeling issue was imperative, just not the one proposed by Mike Pompeo.
He added: "Having a federal regulation is the right way - I don't believe people understand just how hard it is to have state by state regulations - but this isn't the bill. It takes two steps backward. At the end of the day, consumers have spoken and they want transparency, so the GMA should be ashamed of itself."
However, it's not a done deal yet, he said: "I think what this will do is raise awareness."
Asked about the government-backed non-GMO/GMO-free labeling scheme proposed in HR1599, Warady said he believed it would strengthen - rather than weaken or derail - the Non-GMO Project (which has stricter standards than those proposed in HR1599).
He added: "It's like gluten-free standards. The FDA came in with a rule that said [gluten levels should be less than] 20ppm [in a product making a gluten-free claim], but we go by the GFCO standard, with is even stricter [10ppm or less] and that's what we encourage consumers to look out for."
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act 2015: the key points
- HR1599 would pre-empt state laws mandating GMO labeling, such as Vermont’s Act 120, which is due to come into force in 2016.
- HR1599 would set up a federal voluntary 'non-GMO/GMO-free' labeling system run by the Agricultural Marketing Service.
- HR1599 would allow firms to make 'natural' claims on foods made with ingredients from genetically engineered (GE) crops.
- GMO labeling would only be mandated if there is a meaningful difference" between the GM ingredient and its non-GM counterpart or if labeling is “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading”.
- Manufacturers making GMO-free or non-GMO claims will not be able to state or imply that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods.
- HR1599 would allow a food to be labeled non-GMO if it is produced with a GE processing aid or enzyme, or derived from animals fed GE feed or given GE drugs.
- HR1599 would require the developer of a bioengineered organism intended as food to submit a pre-market notification to the FDA showing it is as safe as a comparable non-GMO counterpart. The FDA must not object to this determination.
What happens now?
While many food manufacturers - especially those operating in Vermont - can breathe a small sigh of relief, the bill will only become law if a companion bill passes in the Senate, so it is too early to crack open the champagne just yet, said market watchers.
According to the Associated Press, there is no similar bill in the Senate, yet, although Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), has told reporters he is working on a bill likely to be introduced in the fall.
Read the text of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 HERE.