Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced legislation last Wednesday that would preempt state laws that require mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.  Currently, Maine and Connecticut have passed GMO labeling laws that are contingent upon other states approving such laws, but many other states are considering enacting GMO labeling laws.

Pompeo’s bill, named the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, would give FDA sole authority to require mandatory GMO labeling.  Specifically, it would require companies to submit new GMOs to FDA for review, and if the agency determines they pose a health or safety risk, FDA can require a label.  It would also allow GMOs to be labeled as “natural.”

Presently, FDA allows companies to voluntarily indicate whether foods have or have not been developed using biotechnology so long as the statements are truthful and not misleading.  For example, as explained in its 2001 draft guidance on the issue, FDA stated that “the use or absence of use of bioengineering in the production of a food or ingredient does not, in and of itself, mean that there is a material difference in the food.”  Accordingly, FDA explained that “a label statement that expresses or implies that a food is superior (e.g., safer or of higher quality) because it is not bioengineered would be misleading.”

According to Pompeo, his bill is necessary because mandatory GMO labeling misleads consumers into believing that GMOs pose a safety risk when they have really made food safer and more abundant.  His critics, however, claim that he is simply catering to his financial backers from the food and agribusiness industries, such as General Mills, and his bill would deny consumers their right to know what they are buying and eating.

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