Washington, D.C.The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599) passed the House Agriculture Committee by a voice vote on July 14, after quickly moving through the Energy and Commerce Committee without much dissent from either group.

This piece of legislation was introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) in March and would override GMO legislation at the state level in favor of a federal voluntary GMO labeling system, according to information provided to its members by the Natural Products Association (NPA).

Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., NPA's executive director and CEO, says his group believes in consumers' right to know about GMOs in balance with voluntary labeling. He says the NPA's membership is very diverse and has varied opinions on the bill. "What we all do agree on—and what we're going to push for—is some recognition of organic as non-GMO. We think that's incredibly important," Fabricant states.

H.R. 1599 is now on the agenda of possible items for the House to consider on the floor next week (July 20-24). As of the afternoon of July 17, the bill had 106 cosponsors. Fabricant says it looks like the bill will move forward pretty quickly, and once it clears the House, the Senate version will probably be very similar to the House bill (the latest version of H.R. 1599 can be read here).

He also predicts the Senate won't take it up before the August recess and will likely address other more pressing matters (like funding the goverment) before it touches this legislation.

"Politcally speaking, people realize there's a real challenge to having a 50-state patchquilt regulatory system with regard to this issue," says Fabricant. "Some consumers really like the idea of mandatory labeling of GMOs, but then you get into the manufacturing and science and it's a bit murky."  

Some groups opposing H.R. 1599, calling it The DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know), like Just Label It, believe this bill is dangerous because it blocks mandatory labeling efforts and states' ability to regulate genetically engineered crops. They are calling on consumers to contact their legislatures and ask them to vote down H.R. 1599.

But Fabricant says, "This shouldn't be an us versus them issue...I'm not saying that there aren't problems that need to be worked out [about GMOs], but we need one federal standard across the board for what GMO is and what GMO isn't." He points out that as drafts for a federal standard come to the table, there will be opportunities to comment on it and help shape the framework. "It makes a structure for the conversation," he states. "Right now, the conversation has no structure."

Published on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 7/16/15