Showdown over GM foods looms in Congress

What's on your plate? @bberwyn photo.
What’s on your plate? @bberwyn photo.

GOP-sponsoroed House bill would preempt state and local restrictions on genetically modified products

Staff Report

FRISCO — Food activists say a possible House vote on HR 1599 — called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 by its sponsors — could mark a huge turning point in the battle of genetically modified food. Some of the best coverage of the GMO debate is at civileats.com.

Critics say the bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, is giveaway to the corporate biotech industry and a sellout of American consumers, who clearly want to know if they’re buying “Frankenfood.”

“We were born into a GMO world where we don’t have any idea what the implications will be,” said Megan Fuerst, a junior at Ohio State University and student advisory board president of Turning Green, a global student nonprofit activist group based in California. “It’s a blatantly corrupt act driven by corporate greed and deception of health and science. How can we have our right to know taken away from us?”

Turning Green and other advocacy groups have taken to calling HR 1599 the DARK Act, an acronym for Denying Americans the Right to Know, and they’re especially upset by one of the bill’s provisions that would preempt state and local restrictions on GMOs or GMO food and labeling requirements for GMOs, GMO food, non-GMO food, or “natural” food.

The student group released a video on various social media channels, urging their peers to contact elected officials of a vote, which could come as early as July 23.

The satirical video mocks efforts by agribusinesses to keep Americans in the dark about how their food is altered, potentially to the detriment of public health.

There’s not any conclusive research on the long-term effects of GM foods on human health, but some studies suggest GM foods may be part of a pattern of environmental pollution leading to surges in autism, allergies, cancer, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, among other ailments.

Food advocates also warn that some pesticides and herbicides commonly used on GM crops have deleterious impacts on human and environmental health. 

The bill only leaves open a very small window for labeling GM foods, which the FDA could only do if it’s needed to inform consumers that there is a “material difference in the functional, nutritional or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between the food so produced and its comparable food … And if the “disclosure of such material difference is necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading …”

Here’s a bill summary from Congress.gov:

This bill amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require the developer of a bioengineered organism intended as food to submit a premarket biotechnology notification to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A “bioengineered organism” (commonly called a “genetically modified organism” or “GMO”) is a plant or part of a plant that has been modified through recombinant DNA techniques in a way that could not be obtained using conventional breeding techniques.

The premarket notification must include the developer’s determination that food from, containing, or consisting of the GMO (GMO food) is as safe as a comparable non-GMO food. For the GMO to be sold as food, the FDA must not object to the developer’s determination. If the FDA determines that there is a material difference between a GMO food and a comparable non-GMO food, the FDA can specify labeling that informs consumers of the difference.

A food label can only claim that a food is non-GMO if the ingredients are subject to certain supply chain process controls. No food label can suggest that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods. A food can be labeled as non-GMO even if it is produced with a GMO processing aid or enzyme or derived from animals fed GMO feed or given GMO drugs.

The FDA must allow, but not require, GMO food to be labeled as GMO.

The FDA must regulate the use of “natural” on food labels.

This bill amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Agricultural Marketing Service to establish a program to certify non-GMO food.

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