(Beyond Pesticides, April 17, 2014) Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) recently introduced H.R. 4432, a bill that would give full authority of genetically engineered (GE) labeling to the Food and Drug Administration, which now favors a voluntary approach to the issue. The bill is designed by industry to undercut a growing number of states that are taking on GE labeling by preempting state authority. The bill is being fought by environmental and food safety groups that are backing federal legislation that would label all GE ingredients.
H.R. 4432, or what is being dubbed as the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act” (DARK Act) by activists, would dramatically change food labeling by giving the preemptive authority of labeling GE ingredients to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The act will prevent states from adopting their own GE labeling laws, allow food companies to put a “natural” label on products that contain GE ingredients, and prevent the FDA from requiring companies to label GE ingredients and continue its current “voluntary” labeling policy. This codification of a voluntary labeling standard clearly does not meet consumers growing demands for more information. In the 13 years that FDA has allowed companies to voluntarily label genetically engineered foods, not one single company has done so.
This legislation is almost identical to discussion points produced earlier this year by the Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA), which is seeking a federal solution to growing state efforts to label GE foods. GMA, which is being sued for violating campaign law in Washington for shielding the identity of its donors, worked to defeat GE labeling initiatives in Washington and California after raising millions of dollars and outspending pro-GE labeling groups by a 5-1 margin. GMA in these campaigns has represented food and beverage leaders such as ConAgra, PepsiCo, Kraft, Monsanto, and Dow.
Environmental and food safety groups have already started to mobilize to defeat this anti-labeling legislation. Groups including Just Label It, the Environmental Working Group and Center for Food Safety (CFS) took to Capitol Hill earlier last week to meet with more than 100 offices, said Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label it. The legislation is also being opposed by some influential farm interest groups. The National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson issued the following statement in opposition to the “DARK” Act, stating, “Surveys have consistently shown that consumers want more information about their food, not less. The prevalence of state-led efforts to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) only corroborates these findings.”
FDA may also have a problem implementing these changes, particularly the requirement that the agency define the term “natural” to describe food ingredients on labels. FDA has suggested it is in no hurry to define the term because of its subjectivity, the number of parties and agencies that would need to be involved, and the likelihood that a substantive and clear definition is difficult to craft.
The act also will give FDA the responsibility to require food companies to notify the agency before any new GMO ingredient goes on the market. Currently that process is voluntary. The agency would have the authority to mandate a label should any safety issue arise.
Opposing federal legislation has already been introduced to label all GE ingredients. On April 24, 2013, U.S. Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) and U.S. Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) introduced companion legislation that would require FDA to “clearly label” all GE whole and processed foods, including fish and other seafood. The bills, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, H.R. 1699andS. 809, have 22 cosponsors in the House and 10 in the Senate.
To learn more about GE policy and varieties of GE crops please visit Beyond Pesticides genetic engineering issue page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.