The U.S. Senate resumed debate today on GMO legislation that would preempt Vermont’s newly effective labeling law.
On Wednesday, the Senate gave preliminary approval to the measure proposed by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Kansas Republican Pat Roberts. Provisions include allowing food manufacturers to use digital QR codes read by smartphones; it would preempt any state labeling law.
During floor statements Thursday, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, the senior senator from the first state to implement mandatory GMO labeling, called the federal measure “a farce of a proposal.” “The proposal before us today is driven more by the perspectives of powerful special interests. And I remain concerned that this legislation takes away the rights of Vermont, and actually any other state, to legislate in a way that advances public health and food safety. A main concern is this bill allows the use of electronic disclosure methods. In many rural parts of the country we have significant technological challenges that make it nearly impossible for consumers to access electronic or digital disclosure methods allowed in this bill. Consumers were an afterthought in the crafting of this deal.”
Connecticut has adopted and will implement GMO labeling if four other states comprising 20 million people move ahead with the same legislation. Democrat Richard Blumenthal says the Senate measure is misguided and betrays the desires of 90 percent of the American people. “What probably offends me most about this legislation is that it overrides the will of the people of Connecticut, that they want clear, comprehensive labeling on GMO products. This proposal is simply not practical or logical or fair to consumers.”
While Minority Whip Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin believes it is mindless to allow individual states to decide labeling standards for national companies, he would not support the federal proposal due to the QR code provision. “What they want to do, these food companies, is not tell you as a consumer whether it has GMO’s or not. They want you to hold your cell phone as you go through the grocery store up to that box of macaroni and cheese to see if it has GMO in it or not by reading all that’s written on your cell phone. That is a bad joke. And I think it’s an embarrassment to consumers to ask them to go through that.”
North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis scoffed at the idea that consumers would have problems with QR codes and emphasized the need for a nationwide labeling standard. “What it’s trying to do is avoid the confusion and the cost when a state implements a law that becomes defacto federal law of the land and increases the cost of prices to consumers. Complexity creates costs. In Vermont alone it will increase the average cost per household by about $2 thousand dollars a year.”
The U.S. Senate voted 65-32 on Wednesday to move the measure to a second vote. Senators were still debating the measure by late Thursday.