Energy and Commerce Hearing an Important Step Toward a National, Consistent Labeling Standard | Commentary

Posted December 10, 2014 at 5:09pm

As the 113th session of Congress winds to a close, activity on Capitol Hill is bustling, with members of Congress working to address the most critical issues facing the country. To that end, members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a critical hearing this week on a subject important to all Americans: food safety and labeling.

So why is this a critical issue for Congress to address?

On election night last month, as Americans sat glued to their televisions and iPad screens and witnessed a major shift in Congressional power, there was another election result that had the potential to impact millions of Americans. It was the defeat of mandatory GMO labeling measures in Colorado and Oregon that would have thrown the U.S. food supply chain into disarray.

Despite the defeat of these measures, anti-GMO activists have already announced their intentions to press on. Whether you support state GE mandatory labeling or not, I hope we can all agree that waging costly political campaigns is no way to develop public policy for food labeling. Voters deserve a national, consistent framework for labeling that ensures consumers have access to consistent, accurate information that is managed — as it always has been — by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Fortunately, members of Congress have already proposed a solution. The bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which has been introduced by Representatives Mike Pompeo and G.K. Butterfield, would achieve these critical goals and ensure that American grocery prices remain affordable for families. Members are expected to debate the merits of the legislation during this week’s hearing — a critical first step in the process.

The facts on GMOs are clear. The world’s most influential food safety and regulatory agencies — and over 2,000 scientific studies — have consistently and repeatedly found that GE ingredients are safe. As Colorado and Oregon voters recognized, the proposed labeling measures would have led to incredible inconsistencies and misinformation for consumers since two thirds of GE products (including restaurant foods, alcohol and most cheeses) would have been completely exempt. Given varying state-by-state labeling standards, a product might be labeled “GE” in one state but not another.

State labeling laws would impact every step of the supply chain from farm to fork. America’s farmers would have to separate their GE crops from non-GE crops — even though GE crops help them conserve water, protect the environment and meet the needs for more food dictated by population growth. These farmers, moreover, would also have to buy new and expensive storage facilities. Food manufacturers and shipping companies would have to adopt new and highly inefficient shipping routes. All of these disruptions would have huge and predictable negative consequences on interstate commerce. There would be no way to avoid food price hikes for families. Indeed, a recent Cornell University study found that mandatory labeling in New York State would raise grocery prices an average of $500 per year for the average family of four.

One need look no further than the state of Vermont and the mandatory labeling law signed into law last June to understand the inconsistencies in these state mandatory labeling measures. For example, under the proposed regulations to implement the law, vegetable soup would require a label, but a can of vegetable beef soup would not. Vegetable or cheese lasagna would require a label, but meat lasagna would not. A can of vegetarian chili would require a label, but a can of meat chili would not. Imitation bacon would require a label, but real bacon would not. How would this not confuse the average consumer?

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would establish a national framework for a consistent, science-based food labeling that would reaffirm the FDA as America’s preeminent authority on food safety and labeling requirements.

The alternative patchwork of state labeling standards supported by anti-GE activists would require separate supply chains to be developed for various states. The resulting maze of multiple and varied regulations based on inaccurate information would cripple interstate commerce throughout the food supply chain and ultimately increase food prices considerably for consumers.

The choice is clear. This week’s hearing is an important step towards passage of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act so Americans can continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant, and most affordable, food supply in the world.

Pamela Bailey is the president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.