Digging Deeper


Four reasons to care about the bill blocking state GMO laws

(File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

On Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would prevent states from passing and enacting laws that require mandatory labels on genetically modified food. Here’s what you should know about it:

The bill would change labels for GMO foods  The bill:

  • nullifies laws already passed in three states (Vermont, Maine and Connecticut) and prevents states from enacting any laws that require mandatory labeling.
  • keeps the federal labeling system voluntary.
  • gives the USDA authority to certify foods as non-GMO or GMO.
  • expands the definition of “natural” – already a nebulous term with few strict standards -- to include some genetically modified ingredients.

The bill passed overwhelmingly, 275-150

There are some strange co-sponsor bedfellows on HR 1599, an argument Pompeo used to push the bill, saying it attracted “supporters that range from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Tea Party."

Big food companies, the makers of GMO seeds like Monsanto and Syngenta, and the large farm organizations (American Farm Bureau and commodity groups) generally supported Pompeo’s bill. Environmentalists, organic growers and manufacturers, and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio opposed the bill.

There is a lot of money surrounding this issue

This is a much better indicator of just who’s on what side, with the big money lining up with opponents of labeling laws.

Maplight, a non-profit dedicating to following money in politics, shows that interest groups that support the bill contributed three times more to House members than the amount contributed by interest groups that oppose the bill. And EWG, an environmental group based in Washington, found that opponents of labeling outspent advocates 20-1 in lobbying.

Although most of those who are anti-GMO like to rail at Monsanto, the labeling issue has brought another powerful player to the forefront: the Grocery Manufacturers Association. EWG reported that GMA spent nearly $6 million on labeling last year, while its members (big food companies) spent another $25 million. Sugar interests and big beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi were also major players.

On the other side, among others, is the “Just Label It” campaign, a project of “Organic Voices.”

The Senate has yet to take up a similar bill

Although the bill had smooth sailing through the House, the Senate side is much murkier. So far, the bill does not have a sponsor and there is a rival plan sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat.

There is a deadline for labeling opponents – the Vermont bill requiring mandatory labeling goes into effect July 1, 2016.