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United Fresh supports national solution to GMO labeling debate

WASHINGTON — The food industry is throwing its support behind a bill introduced last week that would create a uniform, certification program for labeling foods free of genetically modified ingredients, bypassing state initiatives that would mandate labeling on all GMO foods.

Facing staunch consumer group opposition, however, it’s uncertain how far the bill will go.

The legislation, introduced by Reps. Mike Pompeo, (R-KS), and G.K. Butterfield, (D-NC), would make the Food & Drug Administration the sole authority over GMO labeling and create a voluntary certification program similar to the USDA organic label, while preempting states from enacting mandatory labeling requirements. Mandatory state labeling laws are misleading because genetically modified foods are safe, the bill’s advocates argue.

The bill comes just days after FDA announced that genetically modified Arctic apples are safe for consumption, along with six varieties of Innate potatoes genetically engineered to lower the potential for acrylamide and black spot bruising.

"Any labeling standard — whether for labeling of GMO foods or non-GMO labeling — must be a national framework, not a state-by-state hodgepodge,” the United Fresh Produce Association said in a statement. “We encourage Congress to take steps to ensure that federal standards prevail in food labeling, and that FDA determine what labeling is necessary in accordance with its food safety responsibility.”

The produce industry is not alone in calling for a federal solution. Other sectors of the food industry say the state and local labeling laws will force companies to build multiple supply streams, design new labels, acquire new warehouse space and even create new transportation routes. Food companies estimate up to 80 percent of the foods in the United States contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

“A voluntary program, administered by FDA, to evaluate food labels that claim the presence, or absence, of genetically-enhanced ingredients will bolster consumer confidence, while giving frozen food and beverage makers the certainty they need to meet the needs of America’s consumers,” said Kraig Naasz, chief executive officer of the American Frozen Food Institute.

While the food industry has spent millions of dollars fighting mandatory labeling legislation in more than two dozen states, consumer groups have poured on the pressure, too, and vow to continue fighting the Pompeo bill.

Some retailers have jumped into the fray. Whole Foods has announced it will require labeling of all genetically modified products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018.