A Republican congressman from Kansas introduced legislation on Wednesday that would nullify efforts in multiple states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.
The bill, dubbed the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.
The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.
"We've got a number of states that are attempting to put together a patchwork quilt of food labeling requirements with respect to genetic modification of foods," said Pompeo. "That makes it enormously difficult to operate a food system. Some of the campaigns in some of these states aren't really to inform consumers but rather aimed at scaring them. What this bill attempts to do is set a standard."
Consumer groups have been arguing for labeling because of questions they have both about the safety for human health and the environmental impacts of genetically modified foods, also called GMOs.
Ballot measures in California in 2012 and last year in Washington state narrowly lost after GMO crop developers, including Monsanto Co., and members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) poured millions into campaigns to defeat the measures.
The companies say the crops are safe and cite many scientific studies back those claims. Pompeo on Wednesday reiterated those claims, stating GMOS are safe and "equally healthy" and no labeling is needed.
"It has to date made food safer and more abundant," said Pompeo. "It has been an enormous boon to all of humanity."
But there are also many scientific studies showing links to human and animal health problems, and many indicating environmental damage related to GMO crops.
Notably, millions of acres of U.S. farmland have developed weed resistance due to heavy use of crops that have been genetically altered to withstand dousings of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, and the subsequent heavy use of Roundup.
Pompeo said he expects hearings on the bill sometime this summer. The measure would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. One provision would make it mandatory for biotech crop developers to notify the Food and Drug Administration before it brings a new biotech seed to market and receives no objection from the FDA.
Currently, companies typically do notify the FDA and consult with the agency, but it is not mandatory for them to do so if the ingredients have been strictly separated from biotech crops, and if the company does not imply that its product is safer than foods containing GMOs, the bill states.
The measure requires the FDA to promulgate regulations that specify a maximum permissible level of inadvertent GMO presence that is allowed in foods bearing such non-GMO labeling.
Backers of mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically modified crops said that the bill is a sign that the GMA and biotech seed developers fear growing consumer distrust of GMO foods. "They know that the food movement's power is growing and that labeling is not a matter of if but when." said Colin O'Neil, director of government affairs for the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit group that supports mandatory GMO labeling. They are afraid of state action and now they're trying to steal away consumer choice in Congress."