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GMO labeling bill makes headway in Vermont; Rep Mike Pompeo silent on rumors over federal bill

By Elaine WATSON , 03-Apr-2014
Last updated the 03-Apr-2014 at 22:08 GMT

Vermont GMO labeling bill H112 includes the stipulation that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients cannot be marketed as ‘natural’.
Vermont GMO labeling bill H112 includes the stipulation that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients cannot be marketed as ‘natural’.

A bill requiring foods produced with genetic engineering be labeled in Vermont has made further progress after passing in the Senate Judiciary committee in a 5-0 vote.

The progress of H112  is being watched carefully by the trade, as unlike some other state GMO labeling initiatives (eg. bills that have passed in Maine and Connecticut), it would take effect regardless of action from other states.

H112 has already passed the State House and Senate Agriculture Committee, but must still be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee before a full Senate vote.

H112 does not require labels on milk, meat, from animals fed GM feed

Unlike some other GMO labeling bills, H112  does not require meat or milk from animals fed genetically engineered feed to be labeled, and excludes medical foods and foods sold in restaurants.

However, it does includes some of the controversial clauses enshrined in Californian GMO labeling initiative Prop 37 - which was narrowly defeated in 2012 - including the stipulation that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients cannot be marketed as ‘natural’.

While the bill has some high profile industry supporters including Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen who argue that consumers have a right to know what they are eating, it has been criticized by other industry sources, which argue that labeling foods containing GE ingredients erroneously implies that there is something wrong with them.

Critics of this bill and others also argue that if the tide turns against GM crops, it won’t be a victory for consumers as there is no evidence that the global food supply would be safer or more sustainable without them.

However, Rebecca Spector from anti-GMO activist group the Center for Food Safety (CFS) said the progress of H112 and other similar bills proved that the tide is turning in favor of mandatory labeling, adding: "The food movement’s power is growing. GE labeling is not a matter of if but when.”

Center for Food Safety: GMA is trying to pre-empt state labeling measures

As for developments at a federal level, the office of Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is not commenting on speculation  that he plans to introduce a federal GMO labeling bill consistent with the aims of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the industry-backed Coalition for Safe Affordable Food  (CFSAF).

Currently, federal law does not require the labeling of genetically engineered foods as the FDA has consistently argued that they do not differ from other foods "in any meaningful or material way" or present any different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding methods.

While the CFSAF is “actively engaged with members of Congress”, it has not named names (POLITICO, for example, recently claimed House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton had been approached to introduce a bill).

A spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA she could not comment on the rumors about Rep Pompeo (who also sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee).

But she added: "We're continuing to talk to a broad group of members of Congress about the need for a federal labeling solution to protect consumers and avoid a costly and confusing 50-state patchwork of labeling regimes."

H.112 has some high profile industry supporters including Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen

GMA: US food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by the FDA

Among other things, the CFSAF wants manufacturers to be able to make voluntary claims about the absence or presence of GMOs under a new FDA-regulated process. However, it says mandatory GMO labels should only be required where the FDA thinks they are needed on safety grounds.

The coalition also wants the FDA to define the term ‘natural’ for use on food labels as civil litigation over this issue continues to clog up the court system.

As federal legislation along these lines would pre-empt any state-led initiatives to mandate GMO labeling, it has outraged anti-GMO activist groups, but the CFSAF says it is the only way to “eliminate the confusion and uncertainty of a 50 state patchwork of GMO safety and labeling laws”.

GMA president Pam Bailey said: “Our nation’s food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by the FDA.”

However, anti-GMO activist group the Environmental Working Group has pledged to "make sure that the public’s right to know is protected and that this bill if introduced, is dead on arrival.”