Last week, the House passed H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act with a recorded 275 - 150 vote. This bill would create a federal, voluntary labeling standard for genetically modified foods (GMO) or those with GM ingredients. Under the standard, no food label could recommend that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods; in addition, a food could be marked as non-GMO, even if it is made with a GMO processing aid or enzyme, or derived from animals fed GMO feed or given GMO drugs. The bill also calls on the FDA to regulate the use of the term “natural.” Finally, it would require food producers to notify the FDA of any genetically modified foods intended to be sold interstate and would prohibit the sale of any genetically modified foods not classified as safe by FDA.
Genetic engineering is a way in which humans can alter the genetic makeup of food, allowing for more efficient and calculated traits in a crop. This does not mean that genetically modified food will be any different in nutritional value from the conventional version, nor does it alter the safety level of consumption in any way. Genetic engineering is merely a mechanism used by specialists to enhance specific, desirable characteristics. This process has enormous potential to reduce production costs for farmers, as well as improve the nutritional value of crops amongst malnourished populations.
H.R. 1599 would prevent states from issuing food labeling requirements at their own discretion for bioengineered foods. If states continue to develop their own laws in regards to GMO labeling, there will be large inconsistencies nationwide, increasing costs for food producers and consumers. Food is one of the most frequent commodities traded across state lines; conflicting state laws would cause great difficulties for the interstate market. This would especially be true for smaller start-up companies seeking to expand and make their products available to more shoppers.
After passage, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy summed up the problem:
Without uniformity in food labeling among states, our food producers will be forced to follow different standards in each state. This creates an unnecessary and costly patchwork of regulations that isn’t good for producers or consumers. This bill sets a labeling standard for genetically modified crops that is both voluntary and uniform, protecting producers while giving states the flexibility they need.
H.R. 1599 deserves consideration in the full Senate; vital issues affecting interstate commerce are at stake.