Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is planning to introduce a labeling bill sometime in the next two weeks before the House breaks for Easter recess, according to a report from Politico.  The bill, backed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food groups, would create a federal voluntary labeling system for foods that are not genetically modified, which is refered to in the bill as “bioengineered”  as well as increasing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory oversight of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The legislative effort is meant to halt state attempts of mandatory GMO labeling and to create a preemptive set of federal rules to quell public concerns over GMOs.  There are currently approximately 20 pending state bills and ballot initiatives that, if successful, could be lead to a patchwork of regulations and be could be costly for industry to fight.

Rep. Pompeo’s office and the coalition is working with the Energy and Commerce Committee of which Pompeo is a member, to finish the bill.  It had been speculated that Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) might sponsor a food-industry-friendly GMO labeling bill, but he has yet to publicly commit to the bill.  GMA has been talking with lawmakers about the issue for months, and in February, joined forces with 33 other food and agricultural groups, forming the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, to help push the legislation.

The draft bill that Rep. Pompeo is ready to sponsor requires that companies notify FDA of any new GMO products before they enter the market.  FDA would have 210 days from the date it received the petition to review the submission.  If a safety or allergen issue is raised, FDA could require labeling.  Genetically engineered enzymes used in food processing and products developed specifically for use as animal feed are exempt from the notification requirement.  The draft bill would also define “natural” to include GMOs.  States would be prohibited from requiring labeling under the measure, something that the food industry says threatens to create a patchwork of different regulations across the country.

The bill would also create standards for companies that want to label their products as GMO-free, though such labeling “may not suggest either expressly or by implication that foods developed without the use of bioengineering are safer than foods produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism.”  Such labeling could be made on meat and animal products produced from livestock feed or treated with GMOs or foods produced with a GMO enzyme.

FDA would have 24 months to promulgate regulations under the bill.  GMO-free label claims under the bill could be made before the rules are finalized.