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Digging Deeper

 

Many consumers don’t know that the USDA organic label, like the one on this jar of peanut butter, also means that the product is GMO-free. (Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media)
Many consumers don’t know that the USDA organic label, like the one on this jar of peanut butter, also means that the product is GMO-free. (Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media)

The U.S. Senate rejected a bill Wednesday that would have outlawed states from mandating labels on foods with genetically-modified ingredients, leaving the issue in limbo as a state labeling law looms.

The measure by Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, failed to get the 60 votes needed to move ahead, leaving the path open for Vermont’s mandatory labeling law to go into effect July 1. That was quickly applauded by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

"I am pleased that Congress stood up to the demands of Monsanto and other multi-national food industry corporations and rejected this outrageous bill,” Sanders said in a statement. “Today’s vote was a victory for the American people over corporate interests.”

But Roberts called it a vote against agriculture. He urged lawmakers to help protect farmers and ranchers who supply food to a “troubled” world.

Ben & Jerry’s, a Vermont company, supports labeling food that has genetically-modified ingredients. It supported Vermont’s law that requires such labels, set to begin in July. (Courtesy Ben & Jerry's)
Ben & Jerry’s, a Vermont company, supports labeling food that has genetically-modified ingredients. It supported Vermont’s law that requires such labels, set to begin in July. (Courtesy Ben & Jerry's)

Calling a Vermont law that creates mandatory labeling of food that has genetically engineered ingredients a “wrecking ball,” Republican Sen. Pat Roberts won first-round approval Tuesday of his bill that would circumvent the state law.

Roberts, R-Kansas, is working on a national standard that would allow food companies to voluntarily label products as GE – which the measure’s critics say already exists – and that would not allow states to require mandatory labeling of food products containing GE ingredients. The bill now moves to the full Senate, but Roberts acknowledged that many Democrats are reluctant to support the bill.

Campbell’s prepared this label to comply with pending GMO labeling legislation in Vermont (Courtesy Campbell Soup Co.)
Campbell’s prepared this label to comply with pending GMO labeling legislation in Vermont (Courtesy Campbell Soup Co.)

The latest showdown in the battle about labeling food that has genetically-modified ingredients is set for Thursday when U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts plans to force a vote on a draft bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Capitol Hill, though, isn’t the only venue for GMO-labeling fights. Many rightly say that the GMO political geography is more accurately to the northeast, in Vermont, where the first state GMO labeling law is set to go into effect on July 1. (Two other states, Maine and Connecticut, have passed mandatory labeling laws but they are pending until similar laws are passed in neighboring states.)

GMO-labeling foes are working feverishly to stop those state efforts. Roberts’ bill would preempt any state from passing mandatory labeling laws for genetically-engineered food in favor of creating a voluntary labeling framework. The U.S. House approved a similar bill last July.

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