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HR-1599: Safe and Accurate or Keeping You in the D.A.R.K?


Written By: A. Wilt

July 2015

Want to know if your food contains GMOs? The House of Representatives doesn’t think you need to.

HR-1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, a contentious bill that would overturn state laws requiring labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOS, passed the House on Thursday, July 23, 2015, and next heads to the Senate for consideration.

If passed, the bill would nullify laws that have passed in Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine requiring manufacturers to label foods containing GMOS, and it would prevent other states from enacting similar laws.

GMOs

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are foods that have been genetically manipulated in order to produce more desirable traits in the crops, such as resistance to pests. As of yet, this genetic manipulation currently is limited to plants, and no genetically modified animals have been approved for sale in the United States.

Back in the USA News Story: HR-1599: Safe and Accurate or Keeping You in the D.A.R.K?. www.backintheusa.us

The USDA estimates that between 80 and 90% of all soybeans, cotton, and corn are genetically engineered, with most of those modifications intended to increase crops’ resistance to insects and herbicides.

As more Americans take interest in where their food comes from, GMOs become more and more controversial. A 2013 New York Times poll showed that 93% of Americans believe that foods containing GMOs should be labeled as such.

Back in the USA News Story: HR-1599: Safe and Accurate or Keeping You in the D.A.R.K?. www.backintheusa.us

In contrast to popular opinion on the topic, the US is one of the few developed nations in the world without a requirement to disclosure genetically modified ingredients. Sixty-four other nations have some sort of requirement, though there is wide variance in how clearly those laws are laid out.

The Bill

If HR-1599 becomes law, Vermont is the state most affected, as its labeling law is scheduled to take effect in July 2016, pending its survival of legal challenges from the food industry. Connecticut and Maine both contain clauses that their laws only take effect if other states’ laws are enacted. While other states have introduced legislation for debate, there are no other states that have actually passed state legislation requiring labeling.

Under Vermont’s law, food offered for retail sale in Vermont that contains GMOs must be labeled to indicate that fact. HR-1599 would make those labeling requirements voluntary on the part of food manufacturers.
Under such voluntary labeling, there would be a certification process through the FDA to certify foods as GMO-free. Any company wanting to use the label would have to apply and be approved, through a process similar to what certified organic produce currently undergoes.

The bill would also complicate the use of words such as ‘natural’ on product packaging by allowing foods genetically altered to be labeled as such.

The Arguments

Supporters of the bill argue that making the labeling mandatory conveys the idea that GMOs are harmful, which, according to the FDA, they are not. Mike Pompeo of Kansas notes that:

"Mandatory labeling of genetically engineered products has no basis in legitimate health or safety concerns, but is a naked attempt to impose the preferences of a small segment of the populace on the rest of us."

They also argue that mandatory labeling will raise the prices of food, possibly upsetting the balance of the food supply throughout the United States.

Democratic Representative, Chellie Pingree, notes that labeling is already in place for other situations:

“We know how many calories are in it, thanks to the labels. We know how much vitamin C we get per serving. We know if a fish is farm-raised or wild-caught, and we want to know those things. Shouldn't we also be able to know if the food we are buying has GMO ingredients?"

Those who want to see mandatory labeling also cite concerns about GMO foods’ safety. Specifically, they’ve noted that the herbicide glyphosate, widely used on genetically modified crops that are bred to survive it, is likely harmful to human health. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization said glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Back in the USA News Story: HR-1599: Safe and Accurate or Keeping You in the D.A.R.K?. www.backintheusa.us

Opponents of the bill have nicknamed it the “Deny Americans Right to Know,” or DARK Act, and argue that even though most Americans support the labeling, this bill undermines that desire.

“What this legislation is suggesting is that regardless of what consumers want, they won’t be told. This is not about a small group of activists. This is states like Vermont, like Maine and like Connecticut, with massive bipartisan votes, Republicans and Democrats, saying that they wanted to have the right to have these products labeled.”

Beyond the science of GMOS, there is heated debate about whether such labeling is within the purview of individual states’ rights. Under the current nutrition food labeling laws, there are federally regulated requirements, but individual states are permitted to require more information under state law, such as sell by dates, sources of bottled water, etc. Under HR-1599, states have no ability to require more information than the federal law.

What’s Next?

While the passage of HR-1599 appears to be a win for food manufacturers and a loss for anti-GMO groups, the debate is far from over.

Back in the USA News Story: HR-1599: Safe and Accurate or Keeping You in the D.A.R.K?. www.backintheusa.us

Now that the bill has passed in the House, it moves on to the Senate for debate. Beyond the Senate, the White House has given no indication of whether it will sign the act into law or use veto power to overturn any law, leading to uncertainty.

What is certain is that the issue isn’t going away. And as we try to figure out how to produce food for an ever-growing population with ever-shrinking farmland, the debate will continue for the foreseeable future.

~~~~~

Other Articles of Interest:

Is Our Food Killing Us? A Murder Mystery about Gluten, GMOs, and our Food Supply

‘Made in the World’ vs ‘Made in America:’ What Does It All Mean

Healthy Eating Made Easier With Local/Regional Food Businesses and Projects

Monsanto: New Study Says GM Soy Fed Goats Produce Tainted Milk

Chipotle Goes GMO-Free: Americans Have the Power to Change the Country

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