Washington, D.C.—Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and Pat Roberts (R-KS), the Committee Chairman, reached a bipartisan agreement Thursday, on legislation for a national GMO labeling standard that would preempt the Vermont mandatory labeling law. While the proposed bill does require labeling a product with GMOs, it is much more lenient than the Vermont law. According the bill, the mandatory disclosure should be in the form of “a text, symbol, or electronic or digital link…with the disclosure option to be selected by the food manufacturer.”
The Secretary of Agriculture has two years to devise the standards for the aforementioned disclosures. By contrast, the Vermont law requires manufacturers simply to state on labels, “produced with genetic engineering.” While the two senators ostensibly both seek to avoid a patchwork of labeling laws, they frame the agreement is very different ways. Senator Roberts has farmers and the biotech industry in mind, saying, “In negotiations with Ranking Member Stabenow, I fought to ensure this standard recognizes the 30-plus years of proven safety of biotechnology while ensuring consumer access to more information about their food.”
Stabenow, on the other hand, sees this as a victory for consumers, while also giving a nod to farmers and food producers. She stated,“For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients… Throughout this process I worked to ensure that any agreement would recognize the scientific consensus that biotechnology is safe, while also making sure consumers have the right to know what is in their food.”
Stabenow also cites where she believes the bill improves upon Vermont’s labeling law. Although the bill would exclude meat from being labeled as a GMO, products that contain meat in addition to GMO ingredients will still be labeled as GMO, a nuance the Vermont law does not have.
Some pro-labeling/anti-GMO advocates are less enthused by the proposed legislations calling it a compromise that gives too much leeway to manufacturers and biotech companies. By giving manufacturers choices for how to disclose GMOs, particularly QR codes, it is another way to keep consumers confused and ignorant about what they’re buying, they say.
Others are cautiously optimistic.“Given this year’s political climate, the Natural Products Association would be happy to see legislation passed this year that is consistent with our principle of having one federal standard versus a patchwork quilt of state regulations. We will continue to monitor this bill and to see if it is merged with the house companion bill passed earlier this year,” said Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., CEO and executive director of NPA in a prepared statement.
Other efforts to preempt the Vermont law have stalled and given that the House is on vacation until July 5, the bill will not pass before Vermont’s law goes into effect July 1. However, if the bill does pass, that law will likely be overturned in favor of this new legislation.