The move comes as food companies - particularly those supplying products in multiple states – find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place as the July 1 deadline approaches to comply with a GMO labeling law in Vermont, while a federal GMO labeling solution that all stakeholders can support has yet to be hammered out in Congress.
Senator Roberts’ 7-page bill - which is scheduled for mark-up this Thursday - would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered foods.
It also proposes an education campaign providing "science-based information, including any information on the environmental, nutritional, economic, and humanitarian benefits of agricultural biotechnology, through education, outreach, and promotion to address consumer acceptance of agricultural biotechnology."
Critically, it would trump all state-led GMO labeling laws, including the one about to come into effect in Vermont: "No state or political subdivision of a state may directly or indirectly establish under any authority or continue in effect as to any food in interstate commerce any requirement for a food that is the subject of the bioengineered food labeling standard under this section that is not identical to that voluntary standard."
GMA: Time is running out
Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) president Pam Bailey welcomed the bill, which has been roundly condemned by anti-GMO activists and supporters of mandatory GMO labeling.
She added: “With Vermont’s mandatory labeling going into effect in July and other states considering their own laws, Congress must pass a national food labeling solution that offers farmers, families and food producers the certainty and access to the affordable and sustainable food supply they deserve.
“Time is running out… We urge senators to stand up for working families, farmers and food producers and give this proposal the bipartisan support that it deserves.”
However, it is far from clear that the bill can meet the 60-vote threshold needed to move it forward.
Read some reaction from key stakeholders below:
“We want consumers to know more about food and farming, but that information needs to be truthful and conveyed in a way that doesn’t stigmatize beneficial farming methods such as biotechnology. Tools such as the SmartLabel, QR codes, 1-800 numbers and other educational resources can deliver an abundance of information about food ingredients, nutrition, allergens, product usage, brand information and more.”
Brian Baenig, Executive Vice President of Food & Agriculture, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).
"It’s outrageous that some lawmakers in the Senate continue to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans. The version of the DARK Act that has been introduced by Chairman Roberts would rob Americans of their right to know what’s in their food and how its grown. We continue to hope that thoughtful food companies like Campbell's will work with consumer groups to craft a non-judgmental GMO disclosure to put on the back of food packaging. Americans should have the same right as citizens of 64 other countries to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown."
Colin O’Neil, agriculture policy director , Environmental Working Group
“The ABA thanks...Pat Roberts for introducing a proposal to establish a national uniform standard for labeling GMO productsWe have passed the deadline for bakers to make multi-million dollar decisions on how they will comply. It is absolutely critical that Congress take immediate action and prevent a patchwork of state labeling laws that will add significant cost to American families’ grocery bills each year.”
Robb MacKie, president, American Bakers Association (ABA)
"The bill proposed by Chairman Roberts provides a common-sense, national food labeling standard that brings consistency and transparency to the marketplace, and will ensure consumers have access to more product information than ever before without stigmatizing a safe, proven technology that is a central part of modern farming."
J. David Carlin, SVP, legislative affairs, The International Dairy Foods Association
"Just Label It strongly urges the Senate to reject the version of DARK Act released tonight by Senator Roberts. Allowing food companies to make voluntary disclosures will simply perpetuate the status quo that has left consumers in the dark."
Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It and Stonyfield Farm
"Absent a federal solution, manufacturers would have essentially three options in order to comply with state labeling laws in Vermont – redesign packaging, reformulate products, or halt sales to that state. Each option is difficult, costly, time-intensive, and at worst, could eliminate jobs and consumer choice in the marketplace."
Tom Dempsey, president & CEO, Snack Food Association
"Any member of Congress that fails to see the writing on the wall and chooses to support this antiquated and undemocratic bill will find that they are on the wrong side of history."
Lisa Archer, Food and Technology Program Director, Friends of the Earth
"The introduction of this bill is just another example of U.S. politicians doing the bidding of Monsanto and giant food corporations. It is an egregious attack on states’ rights, and consumer rights. The Organic Consumers Association will pull out all the stops to prevent this bill from passing in the Senate. Sen. Roberts was quoted as saying that ‘all sorts of bad things’ will happen if food companies are required to comply with Vermont’s law. Yet many of these same corporations can provide clear, on-package labels for consumers in other countries. Campbell’s Soup Co. recently announced it will provide on-package labels on all of its products that contain GMOs—at no added cost to consumers."
Ronnie Cummins, international director, The Organic Consumers Association
Click HERE to read about Campbell Soup's recent decision to break ranks with the GMA on this issue and declare its support for the enactment of “federal legislation to establish a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from GMOs” .
Click HERE to read the proposed bill, which is similar to Mike Pompeo's Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (HR1599) that passed the House in June, but lacks the detail (eg. HR1599 would allow firms to make 'natural' claims on foods made with ingredients from GE crops, and would still allow a food to be labeled non-GMO if it is produced with GE processing aids or enzymes, or is derived from animals fed GE feed).