A bipartisan group of 95 state lawmakers (representing 21 states) who have either sponsored state GMO labeling bills, or supported state GMO labeling ballot initiatives or bans on GMO crops, have signed on to a joint letter asking Congress to oppose H.R. 1599, or any other federal law that would preempt states’ rights to enact GMO labeling laws.
In their letter, the lawmakers argue that states have a constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws, as affirmed by a District Court in April with regard to Vermont’s labeling law. They also reject claims by supporters of H.R. 1599 that state GMO labeling laws would create a “messy patchwork” of laws that would be burdensome for food manufacturers.
Maine Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) is lead author of the letter. Rep. Dunphy is also lead sponsor of Maine’s LD 991, a bill before the Maine state legislature that would speed enactment of Maine’s existing GMO labeling law (LD 718) by repealing the clause requiring five contiguous states, including Maine, to pass GMO labeling laws before GMO labeling can be enacted in Maine.
“H.R. 1599 is being deceptively sold to Congress on the mistruth that it will address consumers’ concerns by establishing a uniform federal standard for GMO labeling,” Dunphy said. “In fact, H.R. 1599 would preempt state and federal mandatory labeling laws and instead establish a voluntary, government-run program for labeling non-GMO foods. States have historically held the right to pass food safety and food labeling laws, and Congress should not undermine that right just to protect the biotech industry.”
Sen. Robert L. Hedlund, a Republican in the Massachusetts State legislature said: “H.R. 1599 is nothing more than an attempt to legally sanction the right of corporations to withhold factual information from consumers. If Congress concedes to industry on this state right, what’s to prevent other industries from asking Congress to strip states of other long-held rights? It’s a slippery slope.”
New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I, D, WF-Sag Harbor) who is a co-sponsor of legislation currently pending in the New York State Assembly which would require the labeling of genetically modified foods and other consumable products made from genetically modified materials said: “I signed on to Rep. Michelle Dunphy’s letter because I strongly believe that consumers have the right to know whether the foods they purchase have been produced with genetic engineering so they can make informed purchasing decisions. I am opposed to H.R. 1599 (the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act) as it would undermine a State’s right to pass GMO labeling laws.”
From Rhode Island, Rep. Blake Filippi, an Independent, said: “This is simply a matter of choice. Many of my neighbors don’t want to eat genetically modified organisms. If the Congressional sponsors of this bill choose to eat this type of food, that is their prerogative. But, they should not attempt to deny our neighbors the ability to make that same choice.”
In their letter, lawmakers wrote:
HR 1599 would undermine the existing rights of states to pass food labeling laws; it would undermine the efforts of the thousands of people working to create basic transparency in food labels in their states; it would undermine the rights of consumers to basic information; and it would undermine the concept of a free market based on truth and transparency in labeling.
The letter will be addressed in a House briefing, on October 20, and during a Senate briefing, scheduled for October 22.
H.R 1599 passed the House on July 23. While a Senate version has yet to be introduced, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, announced that the Committee will hold a hearing on the federal regulation of agriculture on October 21.