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Blunting a potentially pricey patchwork of state regulations, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that will create the first national standard for labeling foods with genetically modified ingredients. Overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 306-117, the Roberts-Stabenow Biotech Labeling Act was cleared ahead of a recess scheduled to start at the end of this week, and was greeted with applause by various food and grocery industry groups.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill, which will require most food products to carry a text label, symbol or QR code indicating whether the food contains GMOs. The U.S. Agriculture Department will the have two years to write the rules.
Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute, said: "The grocery industry welcomes this historic legislation that will both set a precedent for clarity in commerce and open up new avenues for providing food shoppers access to the information they want about the foods they enjoy and in the manner that is most convenient for them to access it." She continued, "Every vote today was a vote in support of consumer confidence in the food supply.”
Noting that legislation mirrors increasing consumer interest in the origins and ingredients of their food, Sarasin said a "single national labeling standard circumvents all disadvantages that a multitude of conflicting state GMO labeling laws would inevitably create." She also praised the bill's companion benefits of eliminating the need for warehouses to segregate products based on varying state requirements, and small-business owners' ability "to continue sourcing the variety of products their customers want to buy.”
Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, was equally enthusiastic. “This is a win-win for every American family in every state,” said Bailey, who also serves as co-chair of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF), made up of industry associations that supported the bill's passage. “The legislation ensures that consumers get more information about genetically engineered ingredients, prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates, and provides the same labeling rules to shoppers regardless of where they live or shop. It is the right solution to increase disclosure of information that consumers are seeking without stigmatizing a safe technology that feeds a hungry and growing world.”
Peter J. Larkin, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association, also applauded the bill, which he said "offers the needed certainty for stakeholders throughout the food supply chain, and more importantly for consumers." Larkin offered special kudos to NGA's independent grocer membership,\ “for their engagement in the political process, which resulted in thousands of calls and letters sent to Capitol Hill.”
'Much-needed Clarity' Provided
“American farmers rely on agriculture biotechnology to help feed a rapidly growing world population, and this bill ensures that genetically engineered crops will not be stigmatized due to mandatory on-pack labels,” observed Charles F. Conner, CFSAF co-chair and president and CEO of the Washington-based National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. “This is a vote for consumers and farmers and a vote against the campaign of fear and misinformation by anti-GMO activists against this safe, proven technology.”
Earlier this week, the coalition revealed that 1,101 organizations and companies had signed a letter urging the House to pass the bill, including Costco, Del Monte Foods, DuPont, General Mills, Hormel Foods, Land O' Lakes Inc., Monsanto Co., Nestle USA, PepsiCo Inc., The Kraft Heinz Co., Unilever and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. A similar letter was sent before the Senate vote, which took place last week.
"We support enactment of this measure because we believe it provides much-needed clarity for the food and agriculture sector, as well as consumers," affirmed Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the Washington-based United Fresh Produce Association. "The bill puts the requirement for labeling on those companies that introduce these foods into the marketplace, which may reduce the pressure on companies to seek 'non-GMO' verified labeling. At the same time, the bill provides significant flexibility to companies with genetically engineered foods as to the manner of labeling, whether on package text, symbol or link to a website."