• Lynda Kiernan

Senate Reaches Agreement on National GMO Labeling Bill

Only days before Vermont’s law calling for the mandatory labeling of GMO’s is scheduled to become effective, the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee has reached a bipartisan agreement on a national GMO labeling bill.

The bill, which could pre-empt Vermont’s law that will take effect on July 1, was jointly announced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) and committee chairman, Senator Pat Roberts (R – KS).

Under the framework of the bill, it will be mandatory for food companies to label foods that contain GMOs, however, this does not mean that the wording will necessarily have to be visible on food packaging. Unlike Vermont’s law which requires companies to label foods as “produced with genetic engineering,” the national bill would give food companies the option to include text on food packaging, include a QR (Quick Response) code to be scanned, or provide a phone number or website address where consumers can obtain additional product information.

The Vermont Press Bureau reports that in her statement regarding the bill, Senator Stabenow says that the bill is “a win for consumers and families”, adding that it “is also a win for our nation’s farmers and food producers”, while Senator Roberts states that it would end “denigrating biotechnology and causing confusion in the marketplace,” according to NPR.

However, some in the industry are left feeling that the bill is still lacking, such as Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It campaign and Stonyfield Yogurt who said in a Just Label It press release, “This proposal falls short of what consumers rightly expect — a simple at-a-glance disclosure on the package.”

And although Senator Chuck Grassley (R – IA) states he will support the legislation, he qualifies his support stating, “I’ll support it. But, we must get away from a non-science based agenda driving law and rules. The science has proven that GMO foods are safe and equivalent to non-GMO foods from a safety perspective. Giving consumers a choice is a good thing, and it’s time to realize that there’s a place for all types of food in our consumer-driven economy without stigmatizing another scientifically safe alternative.”

This bill will not be able to pre-empt the Vermont law scheduled to go into effect on July 1 as the House is in recess until July 5, however upon passing, the national bill will nullify Vermont’s core concise law – a fact that angers Vermont’s legislators.

“GMO labeling exists in dozens of countries around the world. It is not controversial,” says Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. “Already major food companies in our country have begun labeling their products. People have a right to know what is in the food they eat. I am going to do everything I can to defeat this legislation.”

It remains unclear if the bill will gain enough traction to pass both chambers of Congress, however, Sanders’ office made it clear that the Senator will place a hold on the legislation, which will only be able to be reversed with 60 votes of the 100-member Senate.

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Lynda Kiernan is Editor with HighQuest Group Media and of the Oilseed & Grain News. If you would like to submit a contribution for consideration, please contact Ms. Kiernan at lkiernan@highquestgroup.com.

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