GMO Labeling Bill Passes House, Goes to President Obama for Signature

Heather Haddon reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “In a victory for food companies, Congress has passed a federal requirement for labeling products made with genetically modified organisms that will supersede tougher measures passed by one U.S. state and considered in others.

The bill will require labels to be reworked or updated to show whether any of the ingredients had their natural DNA altered, but will take years to phase in and will give companies the option of using straightforward language, digital codes or a symbol to be designed later.”

Ms. Haddon noted that, “The compromise federal bill, which passed in the Senate last week and passed 306-117 in the House of Representatives on Thursday, is a likely relief for manufacturers, farm groups and biotechnology companies.

“A White House spokeswoman said the administration anticipated signing the bill in its current form.”

The Wall Street Journal article also explained that, “Some big companies including Campbell Soup Co., General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co. and Mars Inc. went ahead and began placing GMO-labeled items on store shelves several months ago nationwide either in response to consumer demand or Vermont’s law.

“Danone SA said on Thursday that it would also begin to label GMO ingredients in yogurts made for the U.S. market. A Campbell spokeswoman said the U.S.’s largest soup manufacturer will continue to print labels with words related to GMO ingredients, and the company is in discussions with federal regulators about the language.

“A Mars Inc. spokesman said the company is sticking with the text it has applied to products containing engineered ingredients for now.”

And Christopher Doering reported on the front page of the business section in today’s Des Moines Register that, “‘It’s important that this state-by-state patchwork not disrupt the nationwide marketing of food,’ said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. ‘With the Vermont mandate kicking in earlier this month, time is of the essence.’

“The labeling bill was introduced in the Senate, which passed last week.

Last year, the House approved another bill that would have made it voluntary for companies to label their GMO products. The Senate never acted on the legislation.”

In a statement yesterday, Rep. Adrian Smith (R., Neb.) noted that, “The potential impacts of Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law on Nebraska agriculture and our country’s food supply have concerned me deeply. A mandatory label hurts the poorest among us the most by unnecessarily raising the cost of food. The voluntary labeling bill passed by the House last year, of which I was a cosponsor, would have preempted the Vermont law while avoiding higher food prices by allowing the market to dictate what should be labeled.

“The bill before us now is a compromise labeling agreement. It is a less favorable option than the House’s original legislation, but I believe it is better than doing nothing and allowing a costly patchwork of unscientific local and state labeling laws to take effect.”

Similarly, on the House floor yesterday, Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) stated that, “My colleagues may remember that almost a year ago this chamber passed legislation to establish a voluntary labeling program. I still believe a voluntary label is best but, frankly, if we are going to address this issue we need to work with the Senate and this is the compromise that was reached.”

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal editorial board opined on Thursday that, “The legislation may be necessary to prevent food manufacturers from dealing with 50 different laws in a national supply, but it won’t add to the sum of consumer knowledge. That’s because genetic modification is not an ingredient, but an innovation—one that has made farming more sustainable and food more affordable. Mark this down as a loss for that human progress.”

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