U.S. House of Representatives passes Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015.

  • As covered recently on this blog, the House of Representatives was set to vote on a bill that would — among other elements — establish federal regulatory control over the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods.  Crucially, the bill would block inconsistent state requirements, such as the mandatory GM labeling law set to take effect in Vermont in 2016.
  • On July 23, 2015, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599) was passed by the House in a 275-150 vote.  As passed, the bill would:
    1. require the submission of a premarket biotechnology notification to FDA for any new GM organism intended to be used in food applications (akin to FDA’s current voluntary consultation process);
    2. permit FDA to require “GM labeling” only where there is a “material difference” between the GM food and its conventional counterpart (in terms of functional, nutritional, compositional, allergenic, or other properties), and where the “disclosure of such material difference is necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading in any particular”;
    3. require USDA to maintain and publish an Internet registry of all GM crops permitted for use in food applications;
    4. establish a certification program administered by USDA to permit voluntary “non-GM” claims on food labels (akin to the current USDA organic labeling regime);
    5. require FDA to promulgate regulations defining the term “natural” for use on food labels; and
    6. preempt state and local restrictions on GM crops and GM foods and any labeling requirements related to “GM” claims or “natural” claims.
  • As part of the vote, the House considered and rejected four amendments that would have:
    1. prohibited the use of the term “natural” on foods containing GM components (Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut);
    2. struck and replaced the entire bill with only the section creating a voluntary “non-GM” claim program administered by USDA (Chellie Pingree, D-Maine);
    3. required any U.S. company that labels foods as containing GM components for foreign markets to label its products in the same way for the domestic market (Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon); and
    4. preserved tribal sovereignty to restrict the cultivation of GM crops on tribal lands (Jared Huffman, D-California).
  • As anticipated, major industry stakeholders have lauded the House’s action.  It now is up to the Senate to move quickly to pass a companion bill.