GMO Labeling Issues Percolate in the Senate

Michal Addady reported yesterday at Fortune Online that, “Want to know if your food contains genetically modified organisms? Hope that food companies feel like telling you.

“In a 14-6 vote, the Senate Committee on Agriculture approved a bill that makes GMO labeling voluntary, preempting any state or local initiatives that would have made it mandatory. The legislation will now make its way to the full Senate for consideration.”

Recall that the House passed legislation on this topic with a bipartisan vote of 275-150 last summer.

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from former Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D., Vt.) stated that, “Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senators [Leahy], Jon Tester (D-MT), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Wednesday introduced legislation that would ensure that consumers can find GMO ingredient labeling on food packaging while ensuring that food producers are not subject to confusing or conflicting labeling requirements in different locations.

The senators’ legislation presents an alternative to a Senate Agriculture Committee bill that would hide ingredient information from consumers by overturning state GMO labeling laws.”

The release explained that, “Specifically, the Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act would amend the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to require manufacturers to disclose the presence of GM ingredients on the Nutrition Fact Panel in one of four ways:

– “Manufacturers may use a parenthesis following the relevant ingredient to indicate that this ingredient is ‘Genetically Engineered.’

-“Manufacturers may identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.

-“Manufacturers may simply apply a catch all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was ‘produced with genetic engineering.’

-“The FDA would have the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of GM ingredients on packaging.

None of these options would require front panel disclosures or ‘warning’ statements intending to disparage GM ingredients.”

Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Merkley stated that, “I will be rising periodically to address issues that affect Americans across our country and that this Chamber should be addressing. This week I am using my speech to highlight the labeling of genetically modified foods. This is truly a ‘We the people’ versus ‘We the Titans’ battle because citizens routinely poll in very high numbers about their desire to know what is in their food, and they like the idea of being alerted when their food contains genetically modified organisms or GMOs, but that is not necessarily the consequence, as when we go through the legislative process, often the ‘We the people’s’ commonsense vision is lost in favor of pressures applied by powerful interest groups. We are in the middle of a debate like that right now. So that is why I thought it appropriate to rise at this moment to address this.”

Sen. Merkley added that, “Just yesterday in the Senate, the Senate Agricultural Committee voted out a law to block the rights of citizens to know whether GMOs are in their food. That is an outrageous—outrageous—bill. It would halt any progress in ensuring that consumers can simply and easily access information about GMO ingredients through labeling.”

“Blocking States from being able to provide information that those State legislators or those State citizens, by initiative, say they want, that is an overstepping of Federal authority to crush States’ rights on an issue important to citizens,” Sen Merkley said.

A complete transcript of Sen. Merkley’s remarks can be found here.

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