Senate Clears Federal GMO Food Labeling Bill

Posted on 03/09/2017 10:26 AM

Measure now moves to House

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material; therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The Senate late Thursday passed, 63-30, legislation that would establish the nation's first mandatory requirements for food companies to label genetically modified food products, a move that would preempt state labeling laws such as the one in Vermont that went into effect July 1. The vote now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass. The House approved voluntary GMO labeling legislation (HR 1599) in July 2015.

The bill’s proponents are urging Congress to pass a final bill by next week before both chambers take a seven-week recess for political conventions and campaigning.

Conaway on House strategy. Before Thursday night's vote, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said that leaders in his chamber were trying to map out a strategy for getting the bill passed with as few changes as possible. He said there were concerns about losing GOP votes from members opposed to mandatory labeling. Conaway revealed that leaders “are in the throes of trying to figure out, can they do it under a closed rule? Will that work? Can they do it under a modified rule, an open rule?”

The Senate measure (S 764) was a compromise by Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). It would direct USDA to create within two years regulations for determining which foods qualify for labeling as genetically modified. The proposal offers food companies the option of on-label disclosure, the use of a symbol developed by USDA or electronic bar codes that consumers can scan with their smart phones.

Opponents such as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) labeled the electronic method as the “secret decoder ring” option that is not consumer friendly because information would be unavailable to people without a smart phone or access to the internet. “The idea that people would need to walk around the grocery store scanning product codes just to find out what’s in the food they’re buying is ridiculous and unfair,” Durbin said while debating the bill on the floor Thursday. “Food companies should not be able to hide behind confusing coded labels that conceal their products’ ingredients.”

But Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) argued that QR codes are commonplace and easy to use. “So for those who say this is some sort of weird code or outdated, I don't know about you all but that's not the world that I live in,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the legislation a "compromise bill that would protect middle-class families from unnecessary and unfair higher food prices while also ensuring access to information about the food they purchase... It's the result of bipartisan work to address an issue that could negatively harm consumers and procedures," he added.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material; therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.




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