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Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015: GMO Discussion Continues

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

By Ashley Ellixson

Boxes of tomatoes (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Remember when I said that there is no current Federal genetically modified foods (GMO) labeling law? And recall a few weeks ago when I updated you on Vermont’s GMO labeling law and its current constitutional challenge? Well, today I will outline what could eventually be a Federal GMO labeling law which would effectively preempt all state laws on the topic.

So what does that mean exactly? There would be Federal regulations outlining requirements for GMO labeling of foods and this law would override all state or local GMO labeling requirements and, as a result, put Vermont’s GMO labeling law out of commission.

History of Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015

On March 25, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 with lead co-sponsor Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina. On April 8, the bill (H.R. 1599) was referred to the subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research. This is the second time the bill has been introduced to Congress. The first was during the 113th Congress where it died in committee.

What Does the Act Require?

Cornfield (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

The Act would require food producers to go through a process where they would notify FDA if a bioengineered food were going to be sold interstate. FDA would then have the authority to ban the sale of the proposed bioengineered food if it is determined unsafe. The Act does not require labeling of GMO products but rather FDA could require that alterations of nutritional properties, allergens, or other characteristics of the food be listed on the food label. The Act actually goes even further and prohibits the use of mandatory labeling, stating:

Prohibitions Against Mandatory Labeling Of Food Developed Using Bioengineering.—Except for claims under subsection (a)(1) or (b)(1) of section 425, no State or political subdivision of a State may directly or indirectly establish under any authority or continue in effect as to any food in interstate commerce any requirement for the labeling of a food by virtue of its having been developed using bioengineering, including any requirements for claims that a food is or contains an ingredient that was developed using bioengineering.

The Act would also prohibit a “non GMO” label if the food had been planted with bioengineered seeds. However, the Act states that dairy products from animals fed bioengineered foods can be labeled “non GMO.” Additionally, foods developed using bioengineered processing aids and enzymes can also be labeled “non GMO.” The Act also addresses what can be said on the label if “non GMO” is labeled on a food. For example, the label “may not suggest either expressly or by implication that foods developed without the use of bioengineering are safer than foods produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism.”

Machinery processing crops (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

So what does this mean for Maryland farmers? If you process, package, or process and package your own foods, whether you use bioengineered foods, processes, or the like or not, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 has the potential to change the way you do business. If you do your own packaging, like bottling your own milk, you will have to think about how you will market that bottle in regards to GMO labeling. Whether this Act or another GMO labeling law gets passed, as we have seen with Vermont, labeling laws in the instance of bioengineered foods are on the forefront of farmers’ and policy makers’ minds and keeping abreast the topic is important to producers’ business decisions. We plan to keep you up to date so keeping checking the blog!

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