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National GMO labeling measure heating up on Capitol Hill

Vermont passed a law in 2014 requiring the labeling of food with any genetically modified ingredients, and the U.S. Congress has until July 1, when the Vermont law goes into effect, to come up with a national measure that pre-empts the state’s law.

While Congress has, as usual, waited until the last minute to take action on GMO labeling, a measure called the SAFE act did pass the U.S. House in July 2015, setting voluntary GMO labeling standards. Now that Vermont’s law is set to go into effect soon, the GMO labeling law fight has taken on renewed life after the Senate Agriculture Committee voted to pass the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (SAFE) in a 14-6 vote on Tuesday.

The SAFE Act created a federal standard for voluntary labeling of any food products with GMO ingredients. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, who led the House super-majority, said there is “precisely zero risk” to health and safety from foods produced using biotechnology, and people shouldn’t have to pay more because of state labeling mandates based on “the wishes of a handful of activists,” reports Food Safety News.

The SAFE Act has been dubbed the DARK Act, because opponents say the act would be Denying Americans the Right to Know. Basically, if this act is voted into law, it would stop individual states from requiring labeling on genetically modified (GMO) foods and pre-empt state laws from going into effect, like the Vermont law.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, is claiming victory in getting the SAFE Act out of the Agriculture Committee, but only because he was able to tweak the bill a bit. But he says it is not an issue of safety or health, but a market issue that needed to be addressed.

Roberts said the Senate has “a responsibility to ensure that the national market can work for everyone, including farmers, manufacturers , retailers and consumers.” Well, he is right on that little issue, especially when the alternative would see each state tackling the GMO labeling issue. That could turn into a real mess.

The Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reported that by the end of the 2015 legislative season, 101 bills had been introduced in state legislatures across the country. All of them in some way addressed genetically engineered foods, but only 15 were adopted.

Roberts says continuing with this patchwork approach will be costly to consumers, citing a study that showed the cost could run up to $82 billion annually or about $1,050 for each American family. “Now is not the time for Congress to make food more expensive for anyone—not the consumer, nor the producer,” Roberts said.

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