Vermont GMO Supporters Decry Federal Bill Targeting State Level Legislation
A hearing of the subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce was held in Washington Wednesday regarding a federal bill that, if passed, would pre-empt Vermont’s new GMO food labeling law. Supporters of Vermont’s law are protesting what they say is an effort to deny citizens access to information.
House bill 4432, sponsored by Kansas Republican Representative Mike Pompeo, would require the definition of a bio-engineered organism, require any labeling to disclose the material difference between GMO food and comparable marketed food, and preempt any except identical state or local regulations.
The hearing in Washington brought together the House sponsors of the bill with supporters and opponents who testified on its ramifications.
Subcommittee Chair, Pennsylvania Republican Joseph Pitts, expressed doubts about allowing individual states to mandate GMO labels. “There have recently been a number of state initiatives calling for the mandatory labeling of food products that contain GMOs. Food labeling is matter of interstate commerce and is therefore clearly a federal issue that rightfully resides with Congress and the FDA. I am concerned that a patchwork of 50 separate state labeling schemes would be impractical and unworkable. Such a system would create confusion among consumers and result in higher prices and fewer options.”
Subcommittee member, California Democrat Henry Waxman, countered that states must be allowed to make decisions that are right for their citizens. “Even if there is not a compelling reason to require GE labeling at the federal level, that doesn’t necessarily mean Congress should tell Vermont and other states that they cannot require such labeling. I’ve always believed states should have the right to act in the best interest of their residents. I want to hear from our industry witnesses why the Vermont legislation and potentially similar legislation in other states is so harmful to some legitimate public interest that Congress should override them. Absent a compelling reason otherwise I support letting states make their own laws and govern themselves.”
Some Vermont GMO-labeling supporters were in Washington joining others from across the country to protest what they have dubbed the “Dark Act” or Deny Americans the Right to Know.
Members of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition ventured out in the storm Wednesday to show solidarity at the Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier. Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falko Schilling says the House proposal is a direct attack on Vermont’s new law. “The reason that this bill is a direct attack on Vermont’s GMO labeling law is because it explicitly lays out that if this law passes no state could pass a law requiring the labeling of food because it’s genetically engineered. And we believe that part of the purpose of this bill is to try and overturn the law that was passed by the Vermont Legislature just this last year.”
Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander says the bill is a direct affront to what Vermont has accomplished. “The federal government rather than doing what everybody has been asking them to do, which is to establish a fair national mandatory labeling protocol, instead they’re attacking states’ rights. Given that they’ve been dragging their feet on doing anything in terms of labeling at the federal level to come back at us with something that just undermines the work that’s being done at the state level is, it’s really frustrating.”
Stander adds that genetic engineering is a significant enough difference in how food is produced that people want to know. “The fact that these major food corporations and chemical companies who are the purveyors of genetically engineered food are so insistent that Americans don’t deserve the right to know this piece of information is just baffling. If it’s so great why not tell us about it?”