Legislation to Block Mandatory GMO Labeling Advances to Senate

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The Associated Press has reported that the Senate Agricultural Committee has voted 16-4 to approve legislation that would prevent mandatory labeling of food made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This puts Vermont’s mandatory labeling law, which goes into effect in July, in the crossfire.

Big Food and law makers have been scrambling to pass legislation that would block Vermont and other states from having mandatory labeling laws. Reiterating a common argument against such laws, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS., chairman of the committee, said that a patchwork of laws would be a “wrecking ball” that would be costly for agriculture, food companies and that the burden would eventually be placed on consumers.

Labeling advocates on the other hand have been fighting state-by-state to establish mandatory labeling, with the ultimate goal being a national standard. Tom Colicchio, chef and co-founder of the Food Policy Action, stated in a press release, “It’s unbelievable that members of the Senate Agriculture Committee would vote to continue the same broken system of voluntary GMO labeling that keeps consumers in the dark about what’s in their food and how it’s grown. Americans deserve transparent and accurate information to make their own decision about what to feed their families.”

This legislation does not differ greatly from H.R. 1599, dubbed the D.A.R.K. Act by critics, which passed the House last year. Ultimately, the bill would block Vermont’s law and create voluntary labels for companies who wish to divulge the presence of GMOs in their products.

The bill must still pass the Senate, which will not be easy, as 60 votes are required to overcome filibuster. Opposition does exist on the Senate floor, most prominently from Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Roberts and other members of the committee still hope to reach a compromise that will reach pass the Senate.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI., a ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who voted against the new legislation, believes that to achieve enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate, the bill “must contain a pathway to a national system of mandatory disclosure that provides consumers the information they need and want to make informed choices.” WF

Published in WholeFoods Magazine Online 3/3/2016