GMO Labeling Debate on Senate Floor

A news release yesterday from Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) stated that, [Chairman Roberts] today announced the Senate has proceeded to floor debate on his proposal to provide a uniform standard for bioengineering and an incentive to provide more information on biotechnology to consumers.

“‘This legislation is a true compromise,’ said Chairman Roberts. ‘I have worked with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to find a balance between consumers’ right to know and ensuring an even playing field in the marketplace.'”

The release added that, “Votes on the legislation are expected as early as Wednesday.”

Recall also that an alternative GMO labeling measure, which was co-sponsord by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) has also been introduced in the Senate.

Yesterday, senators began to speak in more detail about these two legislative measures.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) noted that, “Vermont recently passed food-labeling legislation that according to one study could increase annual food costs by more than $1,000 per family. These aren’t just Vermont families I am talking about; these are families all across our country.

“The Senate will soon consider commonsense, bipartisan legislation that aims to ensure that decisions in one State or a patchwork of different State laws do not hurt American families throughout our country—especially at a time when so many are already struggling to make ends meet. The goal is to set clear, science-based standards in order to prevent families from being unfairly hurt by a patch- work of conflicting local and State labeling laws passed in States and cities where they don’t even live.

“I would like to recognize the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator ROBERTS, for his continuing work on this issue. The Agriculture Committee moved to pass the chairman’s mark last week with bipartisan support. I know Chairman ROBERTS continues to work with Senator STABENOW, the ranking member, and others across the aisle on a pathway forward on legislation we can pass in the Senate to resolve this issue. I urge Members to continue working with him in that endeavor.

“Let’s not forget that this may well be our last chance to prevent the actions of one State—just one State—from hurting Americans in all the other States. Legislation to address this issue passed the House last summer with bipartisan support. With cooperation from across the aisle, we can take action on a bipartisan basis here on the Senate floor as well.”

On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) indicated that, “Madam President, GMO, genetically modified food—that is basically what it is. What we want is to make sure consumers know what is in their food. They deserve clear standards. They require the disclosure of what is in their food, not a voluntary standard that Senator ROBERTS is talking about bringing out of the committee. All that does is leave consumers in the dark, and that is the wrong way to go.”

And Sen. Merkley, who has regularly addressed this issue on the Senate floor over the past several days (see herehere, and here), also spoke about the GMO labeling issue again yesterday.

A complete transcript of his remarks can be found here.

In part, Sen. Merkley noted that, “Right now Vermont is a laboratory. On July 1 they are going to have their first labeling law in the country, and that is an experiment that their citizens wanted, consistent with 9 out of 10 Americans who want to know. They responded; Vermont responded. They are the first State in the Union to do so. Are we going to cut that short? We are going to trash that ability of Vermont to conduct this experiment? We are going to stomp on the citizens’ rights to know, not just in Vermont but in Oregon, Montana, Florida, and all 50 States, and throw in a few U.S. terri- tories as well?

Now the argument is made that this is very dangerous because there could be multiple States that produce different standards. But that doesn’t exist. There will not be multiple States in July. There is only one State that has a bill. So it is a phony argument to say that this is somehow causing big, expensive problems because there are conflicting State standards, because there are no conflicting State standards. It is just one great State that responded to its citizens’ desires. Who are we to stop that experiment now? We should endorse that experiment. We should endorse that State laboratory. We should watch to see how well it works. We know citizens want this and that they care a lot. So why take it away just because Monsanto and friends don’t want Americans to know?”

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