Published: Mon, July 18, 2016
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Senate Passes GMO Labeling Bill With Heavy GOP Support

But as Harvest Public Media's Peggy Lowe reports, it's still a food fight. "Consumers, farmers and food manufacturers all deserve clarity in food labeling laws so they can make the best decisions for their families and businesses". The measure requires food manufacturers to use one of three types of labels to inform consumers when genetically engineered, or GMO, ingredients are in their products.

If the House does not pass the bill in its current form next week, the bill could still pass before Vermont's government starts enforcing its own mandatory GMO labeling law, which requires an on-package statement, on January 1. That state's senator, Bernie Sanders, argued that his state has already set the standard. The Roberts-Stabenow bill, which passed a major hurdle in the Senate yesterday (6 July), would instigate a mandatory labelling regime for food made with GMOs.

In a letter obtained by The Des Moines Register, the FDA expressed concern that the bill's use of the words "that contains genetic material" would mean that oil made from genetically engineered soybeans, and starches and purified proteins, would not require a GMO label.

The legislation, which still needs to be formally approved by the U.S. Senate and House, would require any foods that include GMOs to carry a text label, a symbol or an electronic label accessed by smartphone. But with a bill on its way to setting at least a GMO labeling standard at the federal level, Just Label It is looking to win ground with the USDA, which would implement the law, and in the marketplace.

The food industry and farmers praised the nationwide standard, while critics said there are still loopholes to this federal law.

Their biggest gripe involves the bill's loose definition of the term "label" in the first place: Companies get three options for how they want to admit their product contains a GM ingredient (a thing that's now very unpopular with Americans). Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, who reached agreement with Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) on a mandatory labeling bill after a voluntary measure died in the Senate in June. “It will also undermine the efforts of other states to label GMOs. But mandatory GMO labeling of any kind would still be seen as a loss for Big Food, which has spent millions lobbying against it. The proposal did very little to change the existing voluntary labeling system and its primary goal was to derail a Vermont mandatory labeling law set to take effect on July 1, 2016.

The Agriculture Department would have two years to write the rules.

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