Policy: Environment & Energy

Competing bills in Congress and Vermont revive GMO debate

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Politics,Congress,Food and Drink,Betsy Woodruff,House of Representatives,Agriculture,Vermont,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Mike Pompeo,Genetically Modified Food

Two competing pieces of legislation -- one in Congress and another in Vermont -- are reviving debate over genetically modified foods.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Mike Pompeo has a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration the sole authority to require labeling to indicate that foods have genetically modified ingredients. The Kansas Republican's legislation wouldn't require labeling; rather, it aims to preempt state efforts to require labels and ensure that there's just one national rule on the issue.

Meanwhile in Montpelier, the Vermont statehouse is close to final passage of legislation that would require said labeling. A coalition of state organizations called the Vermont Right to Know GMOs — genetically modified organisms — is helping shepherd legislation through the statehouse that, per Vermont Public Interest Research Group consumer protection advocate Falko Schilling, would require that all foods sold in the state and produced with genetic engineering sport labels indicating as much.

The rule wouldn't apply to restaurant food, and the House and Senate versions of the bill are slightly different on whether dairy products made from the milk of non-GMO cows that ate GMO feed should be labelled.

If Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin gets on board with the effort, Vermont would become the first state in the country to require labeling for GMOs.

Supporters of labeling are optimistic about the bill’s odds in the governor’s office.

“We think he’s going to be disposed to sign this bill,” said Dave Rogers, policy adviser for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. “There’s so much, so much support here in Vermont that he’s going to know that Vermonters want this bill passed. And he’s a politically astute person.”

The governor’s office hasn’t put out a definitive statement on the issue, but Shumlin has indicated in the past that he favors labeling.

Pompeo is on the other side of the debate. His legislation would preempt state efforts to require labeling, giving the FDA the sole authority to make such rules.

“This is in a large measure much ado about nothing,” he said. “These foods are enormously, enormously well-grounded in science and safe.”

The congressman added that varying state labeling requirements would confuse consumers and put food producers “in a terrible spot” as they potentially tried to comply with a host of different rules.

Schilling doesn’t share those concerns.

“Food producers might have an issue with it,” he said, “but this is information that consumers deserve, and I think they’ll be able to figure out a way around it.”

Both pieces of legislation -- Vermont's and Pompeo's -- are simultaneously gaining ground. Pompeo's bill is accumulating co-sponsors in the House, including Utah Democrat Jim Matheson, North Carolina Democrat G. K. Butterfield, and Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn, and he said he's been reaching out to like-minded senators as well.

Pompeo added that he's optimistic that House leadership will end up getting behind the measure.

“I think they’ll ultimately think that this makes sense,” he said.

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