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U.S. House Passes Uniform GMO Labeling Bill

August 5, 2015

The U.S. House voted to create a uniform, national system to govern the premarket review and labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R.1599) would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require premarket approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any genetically engineered plant intended for use in a food product. Therefore, the producer of any food produced from, containing, or consisting of a genetically engineered plant that had not been approved by FDA, would be required to submit a premarket biotechnology notification to the Agency before that product is offered for sale in interstate commerce.

 

The bill allows FDA to require labeling if there is a material difference between the food with GMOs and a comparable non-GMO food, and the disclosure of the difference is necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent false or misleading labeling of the food. It also amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Agricultural Marketing Service to establish a program to certify non-GMO food. However, food labels could not suggest that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods. Additionally, a food could be labeled as non-GMO even if it is produced with a GMO processing aid or enzyme, or it is derived from animals fed GMO feed or given GMO drugs.

 

A significant feature of the Act, if ultimately signed into law, is it would preempt state and local governments from mandating GMO labeling. In addition, it directs FDA to regulate the use of the term "natural" on food labels. The inclusion of federal preemption has been hailed by industry as necessary to avoid a costly and confusing 50 state patchwork of labeling laws. If the bill becomes law, Vermont's GMO labeling law (Act 120)—scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016—would also be preempted.

The bill passed House on July 23, 2015, by a vote of 275 to 150. It was sent to Senate on July 24 and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.