The Biotechnology Food Labeling and Uniformity Act, which has the backing of selected food companies including Amy’s Kitchen, Ben and Jerry’s, Campbell Soup and Nature’s Path - would trump all state-led GMO labeling laws, including the one about to come into effect in Vermont on July 1.
And while it would require mandatory GMO labeling on the back of pack, it would not require front of pack disclosures or ‘warning’ statements intending to disparage GM ingredients, stressed Merkley.
Campbell Soup's VP government affairs Kelly D. Johnston welcomed the bill, which was co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Johnston added: “The legislation reflects Campbell’s support for mandatory national standards for labeling of foods made with GMOs. We applaud Senator Jeff Merkley and his colleagues for responding to consumers’ desire for the information they seek in a consistent and transparent manner.”
The four labeling options suggested in Sen Merkley's bill are:
- Manufacturers can insert the phrase ‘genetically engineered’ in parenthesis after any GE ingredients on the ingredients list.
- Manufacturers can identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.
- Manufacturers may apply a catch-all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering.”
- The FDA could develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would show presence of GM ingredients on packaging.
Exemptions are made for foods made with GE processing aids or enzymes; milk/meat from animals given GE vaccines; plus processed foods where the GE ingredient level is lower than 0.9% by weight.
“Rather than blocking consumers’ access to information they want, the U.S. Senate should move forward with a solution that works for businesses and consumers alike. There is a way to give consumers the information they are asking for without placing unfair or conflicting requirements on food producers.
This legislation provides the common-sense pathway forward.”
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
CFSAF: ‘It can’t pass, period’
However, the food industry-backed Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF), which is supporting Senator Roberts' voluntary GMO labeling bill, dismissed Sen Merkley’s bill as unworkable.
A spokeswoman told FoodNavigator-USA: “This is another mandatory labeling solution in search of a non-existent problem. Mandatory on package labeling is reserved for important health and safety information or to distinguish material difference in products; this doesn’t apply to biotech labeling because the overwhelming scientific consensus shows that GMOs are completely safe.
“Both the Senate and the House have already voted down mandatory on pack labeling with large bipartisan majorities. It can’t pass, period.”
While Senator Roberts' voluntary federal GMO labeling bill gained the support of three democrats (Amy Klobuchar, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly) at the ag cttee vote earlier this week, many commentators predict it will struggle to get the support of the 60 senators needed to pass. (Even if all 56 Republicans vote in favor, six Democrats would still need to give it the thumbs up.)
“Mandatory on pack labeling for GMOs would be a significant break from established labeling precedent and listing this information on the package... would lead consumers to conclude that this ingredient has health or safety risks and should be avoided. Anti-GMO activists have declared they will use labels such as this to drive biotechnology from the marketplace, the result of which will be higher grocery bills for consumers. Senator Merkley’s proposal would end up stigmatizing a technology the farmers he represents rely on."
The Coalition for Safe, Affordable Food
*Senator Merkley is the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, on which Senators Tester, Leahy and Feinstein also serve. Leahy is also a former Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.