On July 6, the U.S. Senate voted 65-32 to end debate and have a final vote on bipartisan national legislation regarding the disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients in food products.
The compromise bill, S. 764, was championed by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan). It includes reforms to biotechnology labeling by creating a national, uniform labeling standard for all foods made with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Organizations including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the National Grocers Association (NGA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the American Soybean Association (ASA) all praised the vote and called for final passage of the bill this week so that a vote can be held in the House by July 15.
Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of GMA, said, “Today’s strong bipartisan Senate vote is a key step towards passage of this vitally important legislation to protect consumers, farmers and businesses from the harmful effects of Vermont’s GMO labeling law.
“But the work isn’t done yet,” she said. “The Senate needs to pass the bill this week so that it can be voted on by the House before the July recess at the end of next week.
“Vermont’s mandatory on-package GMO labeling law took effect on July 1 and consumers and small businesses in the state are already facing fewer products on the shelves and higher costs of compliance on small businesses,” Bailey added.
Richard Wilkins, a soybean farmer from Greenwood, Delaware, and president of the ASA, echoed Bailey’s comments about the changes already seen on Vermont shelves.
“We’re now six days in to the implementation of the Vermont law, and already we’ve seen more than 3,000 products removed from shelves in Vermont,” he said. “That drop in sales, coupled with the potential drop in sales due to consumer misperception of the misleading Vermont on-pack label is already beginning to manifest itself in the marketplace. The House must act quickly.”
NGA President and CEO Peter J. Larkin said: “NGA applauds those Senators who voted in favor of advancing a national, uniform food labeling standard for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. Operating under a patchwork of state labeling laws will lead to unprecedented logistical problems for food distributors, which in turn will drive up costs for consumers and create onerous red tape for supermarket operators.”
Larkin thanked Roberts and Stabenow for “their leadership to advance this legislation on a bipartisan basis.
“On behalf of the independent grocers who are operating in each Congressional district nationwide, we urge the U.S. House to take up this bill before the summer district work period,” Larkin also urged.
FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin said: “We commend those 65 Senators voting in favor of moving this time-sensitive matter another step closer to final passage.
“The development of one national GMO labeling standard is absolutely critical if we hope to avoid the consumer confusion that would emerge from a patchwork of differing state laws, conflicting definitions and divergent labeling criteria regarding biotechnology. The Roberts-Stabenow agreement offers the food industry an efficient, economical and orderly means of providing consumers with the accurate and accessible information they want,” Sarasin said. “We and our partners in the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food praise this important action and encourage the Senate’s expeditious passage of the bill. We urge lawmakers in the House of Representatives to promptly consider the legislation thereafter.”
Opponents of the bill call it the “Dark Act.”
Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth, sent out an email statement on July 6: “Friends of the Earth denounces the Senate’s passage of the Dark Act, S. 764, a bill which was passed under the guise of GMO labeling. This bill is a travesty, an undemocratic and discriminatory bill which preempts state laws, while offering no meaningful labeling for GMOs. If accepted, Americans will remain in the dark about what we feed our families. We are deeply disappointed in the members of Congress who supported this bill and who did not stand with the vast majority of Americans who want mandatory on-package GMO labeling.
“Friends of the Earth urges consumers to call on the House and President Obama to oppose any bills that would undermine state GMO labeling laws, and to only support meaningful, mandatory on-package labeling for GMO foods, including those made with new gene editing techniques.”