GMO Labeling Bill Inches Forward in U.S. Senate

Stephanie Strom reported in today’s New York Times that, “A federal bill that would require labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients passed a major hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday, significantly raising the odds that a national standard for labeling will put an end to a fight that has roiled the food industry for years.

The bill requires food manufacturers to use one of three types of labels to inform consumers when genetically engineered, or G.M.O., ingredients are in their products. The label requirements would also apply to growers of fruits and vegetables that are genetically engineered, like the Arctic Apple and some zucchini.

“The approval is a big win for food companies, farm groups and the biotech industry, which began pushing for a national standard last year to head off a Vermont labeling law that went into effect last Friday.”

Ms. Strom noted that, “The bill moved forward in a 65-32 procedural vote and is now widely expected to get final approval in the Senate as early as this week. It was approved after moments of unusual theater, including visitors in the gallery throwing cash on the Senate floor to protest contributions made by Monsanto to senators backing the bill;” and added that, “Both Republicans and Democrats expect the bill to get final approval in the Senate. How it fares in the House, which last year voted in favor of a voluntary labeling regime, remains to be seen. It is also unclear whether President Obama will sign the bill.”

And Christopher Doering reported in today’s Des Moines Register that, “Small food manufacturers would be allowed to use websites or telephone numbers to satisfy disclosure requirements, while those defined as very small, along with restaurants, would be exempt.”

The New York Times editorial board opined on the Senate measure in today’s paper, stating in part that, “This bill, a bipartisan compromise negotiated by Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, is being pushed through Congress because some lawmakers from farm states want to pre-empt a Vermont law that requires labeling for some genetically modified foods that went into effect on July 1 (Vermont is giving companies six months to comply) and to prevent other states from enacting similar laws. The Senate bill follows a failed effort in March to block state labeling laws. The House passed a bill last year that would pre-empt states from enforcing such laws.”

The Times added that, “The biggest problem with the Senate bill is that — instead of requiring a simple label, as the Vermont law does — it would allow food companies to put the information in electronic codes that consumers would have to scan with smartphones or at scanners installed by grocery stores. The only reason to do this would be to make the information less accessible to the public.”

However, the Los Angeles Times editorial board stated in today’s paper that, “Californians smartly rejected a ballot initiative in 2012 that would have required warning labels on groceries containing genetically altered organisms. It was bad policy based on nothing but conjecture. There’s no evidence that eating GMO-laden foods is harmful to humans.

“But GMO warning labels may be forced on food sold in this state nonetheless. If so, we can thank a tiny state with a population smaller than San Francisco. In 2014, Vermont lawmakers gave in to fear mongers pushing junk science and adopted a GMO labeling bill that took effect Friday. That’s too bad for Vermonters, who are just starting to realize that the new law will mean, at least for the short term, the withdrawal of thousands of products from their grocery stores. But it may prove problematic for consumers in the rest of the country too.”

The L.A. Times opinion item also indicated that, “It is wrong to let the baseless fears of certain consumers dictate national food policy. A warning label, however mild, connotes danger, and that unfairly stigmatizes approximately 70% of the packaged food in our grocery stores.

For all the consternation about ‘frankenfood,’ there is no scientific evidence that foods with GMOs are dangerous to humans — and scientists have been looking closely for that evidence. In May the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded in a sweeping study that GMO crops should be considered just as safe as the non-GMO versions.

If food manufactures want to tout their GMO-free status, that’s fine. But the government should not be in position of forcing them to do so in the absence of any verified threat to human health.”

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