All Iowans in House vote to block any mandatory labeling of GMOs in food

Late last week the U.S. House approved a bill to make it harder for consumers to find out whether food products contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Although national polls have repeatedly shown that more than 90 percent of Americans believe foods with GMOs should be labeled, all four Iowans in the U.S. House voted for the misleadingly named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015.” Opponents nicknamed the bill the “Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act” or the “Monsanto Protection Act.”

Follow me after the jump for details on the bill’s provisions, how the Iowans voted on amendments House Democrats offered during the floor debate, and a list of Iowa organizations and business that urged members of Congress either to support or reject this bill.  

Most Iowa corn and soybean farmers now plant genetically-modified crops, such as Monsanto “Roundup Ready” seeds that are resistant to a leading herbicide. At the same time, many consumers are skeptical that scientists fully understand the health effects of GMOs. Women are more likely than men to believe GMO foods are “generally unsafe”–a worrying finding for manufacturers, since women do most of the food shopping in many American households. In one recent ABC News poll, 93 percent of respondents said the federal government should require labels on GMO foods, and 57 percent of respondents would be less likely to buy food labeled as containing GMOs. Multiple polls have confirmed nearly unanimous support for mandatory labels on GMO foods.

Naturally, given the influence industry lobby groups have on Congress, House leaders wouldn’t dream of bringing up a bill to reflect what Americans want: mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

Instead, we get the opposite: a bill that “preempts state and local authority to label and regulate genetically engineered (GE) foods […] codifies a voluntary labeling system approach, blocks FDA [the Food and Drug Administration] from ever implementing mandatory GE food labeling, and would allow food companies to continue to make misleading ‘natural’ claims for foods that contain GE ingredients.” According to the Center for Food Safety, the bill “could negate well over 130 existing statutes, regulations, and ordinances in 43 states at the state and municipal level.”

Anna Roth wrote a good summary of the main provisions in H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. For a concise case against the bill, read this letter from a coalition of 328 “farm, food, health, public interest and environmental organizations and businesses.” Excerpt:

By making voluntary labeling for genetically engineered (GMO) foods the national standard, this bill would enshrine in federal law a failed policy that has kept consumers in the dark about what they are eating for two decades. The bill would also allow GMOs to be misleadingly labeled as “natural.” But most importantly, this bill would strip away consumers’ right to know by preempting state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods.

Twenty Iowa-based organizations or businesses signed that letter; scroll to the end of this post for the full list. The National Farmers Union and its Iowa affiliate opposed the bill, preferring a policy of “conspicuous, mandatory, uniform and federal labeling for food products throughout the processing chain to include all ingredients, additives and processes, including genetically altered or engineered food products.” I also enclose below the Iowa organizations that were among nearly 500 business or advocacy groups lobbying House members to pass the bill.

Lydia Wheeler reported for The Hill that House Democrats offered several amendments, which were considered when the bill came to the floor on July 23. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut pushed for language “that prohibits the use of the term ‘natural’ on foods that consists of a genetically engineered plant.” Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted for that amendment, as did most of the House Democrats. Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) helped to vote it down.

Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon’s amendment would force “any U.S. company or its subsidiary that labels a product as containing GMOs in a foreign country to label the equivalent product the same way in the U.S.” Only one Republican and 122 Democrats voted for that amendment; Loebsack was one of the 61 Democrats who joined almost all the Republicans present to reject it.

Representative Jared Huffman of California pushed for language in the bill to allow American Indian tribes “to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GMO plants on tribal lands.” Both Loebsack and Blum voted for that amendment, but it lacked enough support to pass. Iowa’s largest Indian reservation is part of the first Congressional district (Tama County), which may be why Blum was among just 21 House Republicans to back Huffman’s amendment.

As mentioned near the top of this post, all four Iowans voted for the anti-food labeling bill on final passage. The 275 yes votes included 230 Republicans and 45 Democrats; twelve Republicans and 150 Democrats voted no.

I’m old enough to remember when Republicans claimed to be the party of “local control.” Remarkably, just twelve House Republicans–not even 5 percent of the GOP caucus–believe state and local governments should be able to require food labels their constituents want.

The Center for Food Safety’s executive director Andrew Kimbrell commented,

“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored. […] We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”

Maybe so, but I’m certain Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst will support this bill if it comes to the Senate floor. Their voting records align closely with Big Ag interests.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- The Iowa legislature has been too thoroughly captured by agribusiness for any GMO labeling initiative to have a prayer of passing. But thanks anyway to State Representative Mary Mascher for introducing a food labeling bill. Not surprisingly, it never even got a subcommittee hearing during this year’s legislative session.

Iowa organizations and businesses that urged House members to reject the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act:

Bloom and Bark Farm, LLC

DesMoines County Farmers and Neighbors for Optimal Health

Dubuque Food Coop

Family Farm & Crop Advisory Business

FarmTable Delivery

Green Dubuque

H. H. Beck Century Farm

Institute for Responsible Technology

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement

Iowa Farmers Union

Iowa Organic Association

Iowa right to know

New Family Farm

New Pioneer Food Co-op

Pin Oak Place

Steamy Wonder Spa Company

The Organic & Non-GMO Report

Tim Blair MD, PLLC

Ulgan’s Fields, LLLP

Iowa organizations that urged House members to support the bill:

Agribusiness Association of Iowa

Iowa Association of Business and Industry

Iowa Corn Growers Association

Iowa Farm Bureau

Iowa Institute for Cooperatives

Iowa Seed Association

Iowa Soybean Association

IowaBio

  • Labeling for labeling's sake

    Just because people support labeling doesn’t mean that it is actually a good regulation to have – there is really no scientific basis for any of this concern, and companies are of course free to label their food “non-GMO” (which would probably be less disruptive anyway given that GMO is everywhere).

    Good article on the subject in slate:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/…

    • I disagree with Slate on this

      Every major consumer advocacy group was against this bill, for good reason.

      Even if eating GMO foods is safe, genetically-modified crops create many other problems by increasing the amount of Roundup herbicide (likely carcinogen) sprayed everywhere. Super-weeds are just one of many examples. I want GMO labels on food so I can avoid contributing to those problems.

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