Bill would create organic-type labels for non-modified foods

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2014, file photo, a bottle of fruit juice is labeled to inform buyers that it is free of GMOs, Genetically Modified Organisms, is displayed in Boulder, Colo. In the ever-complicated debate over labeling of genetically modified foods, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he has an idea: use your smart phone. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Inspired by the popular “USDA organic” label, House Republicans are proposing a new government certification for foods free of genetically modified ingredients.

The idea is part of an attempt to block mandatory labeling of foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The certification would be voluntary, says Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who is including the idea in legislation he plans to introduce Wednesday.

Pompeo says a government-certified label would allow companies that want to advertise their foods as GMO-free to do so, but it would not be mandatory for others. The food industry, which backs Pompeo’s bill, has strongly opposed individual state efforts to require labeling, saying labels would be misleading because GMOs are safe. The bill would also override any state laws that require the labeling.

Under the legislation, the Agriculture Department would oversee the certification, as it does with organics. But while organic foods must be USDA-certified to carry any organic label on a package, the USDA non-GMO certification would not be required for every food that bills itself as non-GMO. The idea is that the USDA-certified non-GMO foods would have a special government label that companies could use to market their foods. The bill also steps up FDA review of genetically modified foods.

Pompeo says inconsistent state laws would be confusing and costly for consumers and for companies. Vermont became the first state to require the labeling in 2014, and that will go into effect next year if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry.

“We’re perfectly happy to have folks to understand if there’s GMOs or not in their food,” Pompeo said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It is simply not the case that you can have affordable food that is safe and 1,000 different rules.”

He said he is working with his party’s leadership and also the Senate to try to pass the bill this year.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. They are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

The FDA says GMOs on the market now are safe, but consumer advocates pushing for the labeling say shoppers have a right to know what is in their food, arguing that not enough is known about the effects of the technology. They have supported several state efforts to require labeling, with the eventual goal of having a federal standard.

Pompeo introduced a similar bill last year that did not include the Agriculture Department certification.

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