Senators Reach GMO Labeling Deal

Occurs week before Vermont labeling law takes effect
(reprinted from Progressive Grocer – 6/24/2016)

Two U.S. senators have reached a bipartisan agreement on legislation requiring the first mandatory, nationwide label for food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), one week before a GMO labeling law takes effect in Vermont.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the committee chairman, reached the agreement, which would be more lenient than Vermont’s law requiring on-pack labeling of GMO ingredients, and allow food companies to communicate via a text label, symbol or electronic label accessible via smartphone. Vermont’s law, on the other hand, would require items to be labeled “produced with genetic engineering.”

The two senators believe their agreement would close “glaring loopholes” in the Vermont law; for instance, a cheese pizza could be labeled, but a pepperoni pizza could not, even if it contained a GMO ingredient.

“This bipartisan bill is a win for consumers and families,” Stabenow said. “For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

“This proposal is also a win for our nation’s farmers and food producers,” she continued. “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. I also wanted a bill that prevents a confusing patchwork of 50 different rules in each state. This bill achieved all of those goals, and most importantly recognizes that consumers want more information about the foods they buy.”

Additionally, Stabenow fought for important provisions to maintain the integrity of the nation’s organic program. Although organics have always been non-GMO, this agreement ensures organic producers can clearly display a “non-GMO” label in addition to the organic seal, providing additional information to consumers about the food they eat.

Finally, the agreement contains important provisions that uphold consumer protection laws at both the state and federal levels. Stabenow worked to secure these provisions to ensure that the bill would not impede on states’ rights.

The agreement received support from several industry associations. Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, commended Stabenow and Roberts, urging other senators to promptly vote in favor of the compromise.

“A national standard for GMO labeling is essential if we are to avoid the economic costs incurred by a patchwork of differing state laws,” she said. “By preventing this patchwork, the Roberts-Stabenow agreement will avoid greater consumer confusion, allow efficiency and enable the industry to proceed in a more orderly and reasonable fashion to provide consumers the information they want. We and the 800 other Coalition for Safe Affordable Food member organizations nationwide stand ready to do all we can to work for rapid passage of the agreement.”

Meanwhile, Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, hailed the compromise as a “common-sense solution” for consumers, businesses and farmers.

“The Senate needs to pass this bill quickly,” she stated. “This bipartisan agreement ensures consumers across the nation can get clear, consistent information about their food and beverage ingredients and prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling laws.

“We thank Senators Roberts and Stabenow for their hard work and leadership to find the solution that can give consumers more information about genetically engineered ingredients and prevent different state labeling laws,” she continued. “It is critically important that Congress approve this legislation as soon as possible because Vermont’s mandatory labeling law is already having negative impacts.”

However, organizations such as the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) criticized the bill, saying it “tramples” on consumers’ rights.

“The anti-consumer bill unveiled by Stabenow and Roberts, bought and paid for by Big Food corporations, nullifies Vermont’s mandatory GMO-labeling law, and replaces it with a law that replaces the requirement for clear, on-package labels with a convoluted, inconvenient and discriminatory scheme involving barcodes and 1-800 numbers,” said Ronnie Cummins, international director, OCA. “The proposed bill also gives food corporations another two years before they are even required to pretend to provide consumers with any information at all about the GMO ingredients in their products. Stabenow and Roberts are determined to preempt Vermont’s law, even though major food corporations such as General Mills, Campbell’s, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Mars, Kellogg’s, ConAgra are already labeling, to comply with Vermont’s July 1 deadline for labeling.”