The U.S. House Agriculture Committee approved legislation Tuesday to create a federal standard for voluntary labeling of foods containing genetically modified material.
Lawmakers voted to approve the proposed Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which if passed would establish a “voluntary genetically engineered food certification program” to be run under the U.S. Department of Agriculture for companies to disclose whether their food products were genetically modified.
The bill would effectively nullify laws already passed in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont, as well as those introduced in as many as 30 other states that require companies to label foods as being genetically modified.
The Food and Drug Administration would regulate the review and approval of new genetically engineered food products in a voluntary program to verify whether a food is safe.
The bill would also prohibit municipalities from passing what have become known as “GMO-free ordinances,” which ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops in certain areas out of concerns of cross-contamination with non-genetically modified crops.
House lawmakers said the bill would establish a uniform national standard.
“The current patchwork system of varied labels interferes with the free flow of goods across the country, poses a real threat to interstate commerce and typically results in inconsistent and confusing information for consumers,” said Rep. Kenneth Conaway (R-Texas), chair of the committee in a statement. “Creating a uniform national policy regarding biotechnology labeling is the free market solution that will allow consumers access to meaningful information, create market opportunities for those on the production and processing side, and will facilitate future innovation.”
Opponents of the bill say the measure would set back efforts to educate consumers on what's in their food. GMOs have been a contentious issue in the U.S. for more than a decade. Up to 85% of corn produced in the country has been genetically engineered, according to the consumer advocacy group Center for Food Safety, which opposes the bill.