Late Thursday the U.S. Senate approved federal GMO labeling legislation and moved the bill to the House for consideration. In Vermont, where the first-in-the-nation mandatory GMO labeling law went into effect last Friday, advocates say the federal bill caters to the whims of the corporate food industry rather than actually providing consumers information.
Senators voted 63-30 to move the measure proposed by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Kansas Republican Pat Roberts to the House. The bill would allow food companies to label foods with GMO’s using words, a symbol or an electronic QR code readable by smartphone.
During floor statements Thursday, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy called the measure a farce, and Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said it was neither practical, logical nor fair to consumers.
In Vermont, whose mandatory GMO labeling law became effective July 1st, proponents are incensed by the Senate vote.
Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander quips that she was tempted to throw her computer against the wall as she watched the Senate debate. She is outraged by what she calls misinformation and manipulation by corporate food industry. “I think it’s bad on many, many levels. Some of it is the content of the bill which has so many loopholes that even the FDA has said that very few products will end up being labeled. But I think what’s more eggregious is the process. This bill had no hearings. It had no witnesses. It had no testimony. They didn’t allow any amendments. I mean it’s just an outrage. I mean over 90 percent of Americans in poll after poll after poll have said they want this information and they want it in a simple accessible way. What the Senate passed last night does none of that.”
Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns found claims by supporters of the legislation that it’s the first time such information will be available galling. “Labels are already being placed on food products across the nation because of Vermont’s law. And second under the federal scheme put forward through this bill there will never be any labels on food products that humans can read. At least not if that food manufacturer chooses not to put such a label on the product. And that means I think that anybody who claims that this federal bill will require labels and give consumers good clear information is simply not telling the truth.”
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont Policy Advisor Maddie Monty is disappointed, angry and frustrated. She believes the Senate voted in favor of corporations and food manufacturers rather than consumers. “Our biggest issues with this legislation was really the Q.R. code 1-800 number options are a way for manufacturers who don't want to divulge this information to bury it while still claiming that they're providing that information to consumers. Obviously we’re upset that it preempts Vermont’s law which went into effect exactly a week ago today and sets a much stronger standard for mandatory labeling. The definition of genetic engineering or bioengineering under this bill is very narrow and actually a lot of analysts have said that this bill would actually exclude a lot of products. And one of the major red flags for us is that it does not come with any federal penalties for violations.”
Vermont Law School Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic Acting Director Laura Murphy notes that if the measure passes the House and the president signs it, there would still be some things that would play out before Vermont’s law would actually be preempted. “There are likely to be some questions about the scope and extent of preemption the way this federal bill is drafted. What exactly would be preempted in Vermont? And then the other thing, and I think this could happen, is there might actually be a legal challenge filed against the federal law and so then we would see how that played out.”
Calls to the Grocery Manufacturers of America were not returned in time for broadcast. The organization issued a statement after the Senate’s preliminary vote calling the legislation a “…commonsense solution before the harmful effects of Vermont’s labeling law impact the nation’s entire food supply chain.”