U.S. House of Representatives passes national GMO bill

GMO food
CC BY 2.0 Lindsay Eyink

This afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a controversial bill that seeks to set a unified standard for the labeling of foods containing biotech ingredients. The bill (H.R. 1599) overturns state-level laws that require foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, to be labeled.

The bill passed in a 275 to 150 vote.

One procedural amendment from Colorado representative Jared Polis proposed changing the title of the bill from the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 to the Deny Americans the Right to Know act. The “DARK act” is the rallying cry for opponents of the bill, who say the bill makes it more difficult for Americans to decide for themselves whether or not to eat GMOs. The proposed name change was not adopted, and an amendment to prohibit the use of the term “natural” on foods containing GMOs also failed.

The bill establishes a new USDA voluntary program for GMO-free labeling, similar to the existing organic program. It also prevents state from requiring food manufacturers to state whether or not their products contain GMOs. So far only Vermont has such a law, although labeling is being debated in many other states.

Some supporters of the bill say that those who want to avoid food containing GMOs may do so already by eating certified organic food. “This bill doesn’t deny any consumer the right to know,” Mike Pompeo, the bill’s sponsor, said during the debate.

The food industry has pushed for the bill, saying that a patchwork of state-by-state labeling laws could drive the cost of food up.

In order for federal GMO labeling standards to go into effect, they must also be approved by the Senate. “We’re confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group, which has strongly opposed the bill.

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