Stop this evil GMO-hiding bill

Introduction

The House of Representatives is considering a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas.  It’s called H.R. 1599, “Safe And Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015.”  The bill concerns selling and labeling food products that contain GMOs (genetically-engineered organisms).  Opponents of GMOs have dubbed the bill the “Mother Of All Monsanto Protection Acts.”  Certainly the original title of the bill has a bad odor.

What to do

If you agree that this bill is evil, fight it.  Organic Bytes tells how.

What’s wrong with GMO foods?

Even if the food itself were safe, there is still plenty wrong with the use of GMOs in food.

  1. Genetic engineering “edits” DNA; it’s like patching software.  It can have unforeseen consequences (bugs).  The possible scope of a bug in our food supply is disturbing.
  2. Farmers who use patented GMO seeds are prohibited from saving the seed of their crops and replanting it.  They have no alternative to the monopolistic seed company, which thus gains control over the nation’s food supply.
  3. GMOs are designed mainly by pesticide companies like Monsanto to resist pesticides.  They enable farmers to drench their crops in poison that kills everything but the crop plant.  Does all that poison just “go away?”  Or are we eating it?
  4. Weeds are already evolving immunity to pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup; so an “arms race” with nature has begun.  Where will it lead?  How much more poison will we eat?

Most damming to me is that the producers want to conceal that their food contains GMOs, They assert that there is no safety issue; so a GMO label would only alarm and confuse people.  “We know what’s best for you.”  And it isn’t even the government saying this; it’s Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association.

What opponents say

Organic Bytes says: In addition to preempting states’ rights to label GMOs, the latest iteration of H.R. 1599 will wipe out all state and local laws that regulate the growing of GMO crops—laws like the one passed in May 2014, Jackson County, Ore.—and weaken federal oversight of GMO crops and foods.

What supporters say

At the time I wrote this blog, Monsanto had no information about H.R. 1599 on its website. Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.18.52 PM

What I think

My conclusion: it does preempt states’ rights to require labeling of GMO foods.  But I didn’t see language that wipes out state/local regulation of GMO agriculture. Other issues I have with this bill:

  • The bill makes the food-producer responsible for showing that a GMO food is as safe as comparable non-GMO food
  • Under the bill, the FDA won’t test GMO foods; it will merely evaluate statements that producers make about their products
  • New GMO food products can be hidden from the public until they hit the marketplace and can’t be stopped.
  • No state can prohibit or restrict the “sale, distribution or marketing” of GMOs intended for food, or GMO food. 
  • Food labels can’t claim that GMO-free food is safer than GMO food.  (What about the First Amendment?)
  • The bill hides much by referring to and changing existing law, even to the level of manipulating punctuation in sentences that aren’t included in the bill.  On the basis of its obfuscation alone, this bill deserves to go down.

I’m not saying anything here that I haven’t read in the bill.

Summary

I decided to find out what this is all about by summarizing the text of the bill as listed in congress.gov on 7/7/15.  Disclaimer; I am not a lawyer.  I’ve translated the bill to plain English, which can be more understandable but less precise.  If you want to know exactly what something I wrote means, please refer to the original text.

Format key:

  • …  (Elipses) : These show where I’m skipping details that seem to be of less interest.
  • Green text: Highlights parts that say whether or when the other parts are in effect.
  • Red text: Highlights parts of concern to consumers.

A bill

This bill changes the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act regarding foods that contain GMOs and labeling of natural foods.

Section 1; Short title …

Section 2: Table of contents …

Section 3: Ensuring safety of food supply

This bill isn’t meant to change how the Food and Drug Administration ensures the safety of food.

Title I: food involving GMOs

Section 101: Definitions

Bioengineered organism: A plant “modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques” where the modification couldn’t be achieved thru breeding.

Section 102: Mandatory pre-market biotechnology notification

Nobody can sell a GMO for use in food unless the developer has given notice, per Section 424 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (which follows).

Section 424: Giving notice re: GMOs

a. Nobody can sell a GMO for use in food unless:

1. They’ve given premarket notification, and the Secretary hasn’t objected; or

2. The Secretary evaluates the product per the FDA’s voluntary consultation process used before this act was passed and tells the developer all safety questions are resolved.

b. Exceptions:

1.  The developer is just testing

2.  The GMO is just being used to produce the food (it’s not an ingredient)

c. Premarket technology notice (PTN)

1.  The developer must give the Secretary 210 days’ notice before starting to sell the GMO.

A.  The notice has to show how the developer determined that the GMO food is as safe for humans/animals as comparable non-GMO foods

B.  The notice has to state whether any other federal agency is reviewing the GMO.

2.  The developer can talk informally to the Secretary about the GMO before giving notice.

d.  Response to a premarket technology notice

1.  Preliminary resopnse: 30 days after getting the notice, the Secretary replies that it’s complete and has been filed; or says what’s wrong with it.  The Secretary can only delay the Substantive Response (which follows) if he/she needs more information to evaluate the PTN. 2. Substantive response: 180 days after the Preliminary Response, the Secretary tells the developer that he/she has no objection to the method the developer explained in his PTN to determine that the GMO food is as safe as a comparable non-GMO food.  Or, the Secretary tells the developer that the measures the PTN describes don’t justify the developer’s conclusion about safety.  In this case, the Secretary must say how he/she decided that the described measures are inadequate.  3.  If the Secretary hasn’t yet responded to a PTN, the developer can withdraw it without prejudice. 4.  If the Secretary doesn’t give a Substantive Response to a PTN 180 days after the Preliminary Response, the developer can start selling the GMO food.

e.  Labeling

The Secretary can require that a GMO food label disclose its difference from comparable non-GMO food if:

  • The Secretary finds a “material difference” between the GMO food and comparable GMO-free food.  Containing GMOs is not a material difference.
  • The Secretary find that disclosing the difference is necessary to protect health and safety; or to prevent the label from being false and misleading

f.  Public disclosure

The FDA needn’t make a PTN public until the Secretary gives a Substantive Response to it (which he/she doesn’t have to do).

g.  Definitions …

Material difference: The GMO food is so different that its usual name doesn’t describe it.  Or its nutritional properties differ.  Or it contains an allergen consumers wouldn’t expect, given the food’s usual name.

c: Applicability

This bill takes effect 30 days after its enacted, whether or not the FDA is ready. (No reference to the date it’s signed by the President or allowed to pass unsigned.)

d.  Pending submissions

Any submission to the current Voluntary Consultation Program that’s pending on the date this bill is passed automatically becomes a PTN.  The Secretary will handle these PTNs “expeditiously.”

e.  Preemption

(This section of the bill conceals much by referencing and changing the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, thus avoiding including important information in the bill.) No state can prohibit or restrict the “sale, distribution or marketing” of GMOs intended for food, or GMO food. 

Section 403a: State requirements

(I’m having trouble understanding changes to Section 403a (national uniform nutrition labeling.  A disturbing amount of text in the Act regarding states’ rights seems to have been removed.)

 Section 103: Labeling of whether food is bioengineered

Add to Section 343, “Misbranded Food;” a label is “misbranded” if it states that the product is (or is not) bioengineered in violation of Section 425 (which follows).

Section 425: Labeling of whether food is bioengineered

If a label says the product is GMO-free, its ingredients must be monitored to make sure it didn’t  come from GMO seeds; that it’s isolated from GMOs throughout its production; and that people who work with it keep it isolated.  But if GMOs get into the food by accident, a GMO-free label is still okay. A label can’t say or imply that GMO-free food is safer than GMO food. It’s okay to label dairy products and eggs “GMO-free” even if the animals were given GMO food or drugs, if the Secretary authorized the use of the GMO food/drugs.   It’s okay to label a food GMO-free if GMOs were involved in processing it (but are not ingredients). … The Secretary can’t require that labels disclose that food contains GMOs simply because it contains GMOs.  … It’s okay for a producer to disclose that a food contains GMOs on the label and elsewhere, if he wants to.A state can’t require the labeling of GMO food in interstate commerce.

Title II: Natural foods

Section 201: Labeling of natural foods

A producer can’t label a food as “Natural” unless it conforms to FDA natural food regulations.  But the Natural label is okay while the FDA is changing its regulations, if it qualifies under the existing ones. 

Section 202: Regulations

Natural food regulations should be different for human vs. animal food.  The Secretary must issue proposed natural food regulations 12 months after this bill is passed, and final regulations 24 months after it’s passed. 

Title III: Non-GMO food certification

Section 291a: National Non-GMO food certification program

The secretary will create a non-GMO food certification program.  “Certifying Agents” will do the certifying; they can be anybody the Secretary appoints, including private parties. …

Section 291b: National standards for labeling non-GMO food

(This section mirrors earlier text regarding labeling.)

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