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Back to square one on federal GMO labeling, as Pat Roberts' bill is defeated in the Senate

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

No middle ground? If labeling isn't mandatory, what's the point of it? say activists
No middle ground? If labeling isn't mandatory, what's the point of it? say activists

Related tags: Gmo labeling, United states senate

Sen. Pat Roberts’ GMO labeling bill (S. 2609) has been defeated in the Senate (48:49), as lawmakers proved unable to hammer out a compromise that all stakeholders could get behind in the race to create a federal GMO labeling standard before new laws take effect in Vermont in July.

Sen. Roberts’ bill – which anti-GMO activists are dubbing the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act – was modified earlier this week​ to appease critics, but still failed to pass in a vote on the Senate floor Wednesday, prompting frustration on the part of biotech supporters and elation from anti-GMO activists.

The bill would have given the food industry two years to get the majority of products into the industry-backed SmartLabel​ program before mandatory labeling rules would come into effect, but assuming this threshold was reached, would not have forced firms to label GMOs on pack.

Sen. Pat Roberts: 'If we do not act, everyone loses’

In a press release after the defeat, Roberts said he was frustrated, but remained “at the ready to work on a solution​” that everyone can support.

Senator Pat Roberts
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS): 'I have been flexible and I have compromised."

He added: “Ihave repeatedly put forward proposals to protect farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. I have been flexible and have compromised in order to address concerns about making information available to consumers… If we do not act, everyone loses.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) in turn criticized Senators who he argued had “chosen to side with activists who have publicly acknowledged their objective is to stigmatize a safe and valuable tool for America’s farmers and ranchers.

“Due to these actions, interstate commerce will be severely threatened; small, family-owned food companies face penalties that include a $1,000 per day, per product fine should their products intentionally or unintentionally cross into Vermont’s borders; America's farmers will lose access to vital technologies; and our ability to continue to provide the world’s safest, most abundant and affordable food supply will be threatened.”

Brian Baenig, EVP food & agriculture at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), in turn, said he nevertheless remained hopeful that a federal GMO labeling bill could pass the Senate, adding that BIO would “continue to work with Senate leaders to find a bipartisan solution to the GMO food labeling issue”.

tom dempsey SFA

"We are extremely disappointed that the Senate could not come together today to support a bipartisan solution that would have called for unprecedented disclosure of ingredient information to consumers and prevented a chaotic patchwork of state laws from taking effect...We view today's result as a major failure on behalf of our Congress to stand up and do the right thing for American food and agricultural business, as well as for consumers.  
 
"SMEs will be hit the hardest by the state-by-state approach to mandatory labeling if the Senate does not quickly reach a compromise.  We must find a solution that establishes federal guidelines for GMO labeling that does not stigmatize a technology that has been proven safe and beneficial." 

Tom Dempsey, president and CEO, Snack Food Association

Gary Hirshberg: Simply put, Senator Roberts’ proposal didn’t deserve the support of the Senate

Gary Hirshberg
Gary Hirshberg: Roberts' bill would have 'implemented yet another unworkable and confusing voluntary labeling system'

Anti-GMO activists, however, said the defeat was a 'major win' for consumers, with Just Label It chairman Gary Hirshberg noting: “Simply put, Senator Roberts’ proposal didn’t deserve the support of the Senate. It would have implemented yet another unworkable and confusing voluntary labeling system.”

The Environmental Working Group, Food Policy Action, The Center for Food Safety, U.S. Right to Know and other supporters of mandatory GMO labeling also welcomed the news, with Consumers Union urging Senators to get behind Sen. Jeff Merkley’s bill​, which he claims offers a ‘common-sense’ compromise that will please supporters of mandatory GMO labeling, but offer the food industry a more palatable means of presenting this information.

More to follow...

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2 comments

"Affordable Food Supply"

Posted by patrick,

Michael Conway obviously isn't including the explosion in health care costs that are resulting from cheap and unhealthy food. It's cheaper to eat organic fruits and vegetables when factor in all the benefits.

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Get the term correct.

Posted by Anita H,

This debate is not about GM - Genetic modification, it is really only about GE - genetic engineering. Labels that use the term "GMO" are inherently misleading to consumers. It is unlikely that anything on the grocery shelves is "GMO free". Many products are probably "GE free".
If you are going to have this debate, at least be clear about what it is that is being labelled.

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