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Congress Members Try to Rescue GMOs

Two members of Congress introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday that would replace state-level GMO labeling laws with a federal requirement for a Food and Drug Administration review of the safety of genetically-modified food ingredients that would likely prevent those ingredients from appearing on labels if FDA deems them safe.

The "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014" (HR 4432), is the work of a Kansas Republican, mechanical engineer, and attorney, Mike Pompeo, and a North Carolina Democrat, G.K. Butterfield, a former member of that state's supreme court.

In a background interview with members of North American Agricultural Journalists on Tuesday, Pompeo said that "the science is pretty clear that these products are safe."

The bill, if it becomes law, would require FDA review of genetically modified organisms, but they would be labeled only if there was a potential health or allergy risk. For all practical purposes, such products wouldn't be brought to market, and GMOs in use would not be labeled.

Because federal law preempts state-level laws, this would end the labeling requirements in two states that have passed them in the Northeast. Voters in California and Washington state have rejected initiatives to require labeling there, after expensive campaigns against the proposals by agricultural companies.

Pompeo and his staff said that existing review of new GM crops by USDA and the EPA would continue and that FDA requirements would only apply to foods for humans.

When the two House members announced their bill Wednesday, they said it has support from the agricultural community.

"From the Kansas farmer’s harvest to a Kansas family's table, our food supply is crucial to our economy, to our health, and to our way of life, Pompeo said in a statement. "The Sunflower State has relied on technological advances in order to feed the world, and this bill would ensure our continued success in providing safe, affordable, and nutritious food."

"This bill has resounding support from the North Carolina Farm Bureau and the agriculture community at large," said Butterfield. "It prevents a mishmash of labeling standards and allows farmers to continue to produce higher yields of healthy crops in smaller spaces with less water and fewer pesticides. If passed, this will be a big win for farmers nationwide."

The news drew immediate welcome from the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association.

"This bill is a commonsense, science-based approach to an issue we realize is close to the hearts and minds of so many consumers," said Iowa farmer and ASA president Ray Gaesser. "Americans want to know that their food is safe, and the solutions proposed in this bill will ensure that they have that information."

Pompeo said Tuesday that he doesn't think GMO labeling is a partisan issue.

But food activists were immediately skeptical, with the Environmental Working Group calling the bill, Big Food's "DARK Act" (short for Deny Americans the Right to Know).

"More than 90% of Americans support labeling of GE foods," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG. "It’s clear the public wants to know what's in their food, but if Rep. Pompeo has his way, no one will have that right."

Pompeo said Tuesday that he has visited with Republican leadership in the House about getting a vote on the bill but so far has not gotten a commitment.

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