Food companies would not have to disclose whether their products include genetically modified ingredients under legislation passed by the House Thursday.
The House bill is backed by the food industry, which has fought mandatory labeling efforts in several states around the country. The legislation, which passed 275-150, would prevent states from requiring package labels to indicate the presence of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
So far, Vermont is the only state set to require the labels. That law will take effect in July 2016 if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry. Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws requiring the labeling, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit.
The country’s largest food companies say genetically modified foods are safe and that labels would be misleading. They say a patchwork of laws around the country would be expensive for companies and confusing for consumers.
Advocates for the labels say people have a right to know what is in their food and criticize the legislation for trying to take away states’ ability to require the labels.
“What’s the problem with letting consumers know what they are buying?” asked Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat.
Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. It also is made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil.