GMO Bill Clears Senate Hurdle

Bill Requires USDA to Create a GMO Disclosure or Label for Foods

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Under a Senate GMO labeling bill, USDA would be required to create a national disclosure system for foods containing ingredients from biotech crops. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The Senate bill requiring labeling or disclosure of ingredients from genetically modified organisms passed a key test Wednesday when the Senate voted 65 to 32 to limit debate on the bill.

A vote on Senate passage is likely Thursday. The Senate and House would then have to work on dealing with differences in legislation from the Senate bill and a House bill that passed last summer.

The voting was briefly interrupted by protesters throwing paper money and yelling various phrases such as, "You've been bribed by Monsanto."

The bill would preempt state laws requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods and establish a federal mandatory disclosure system. The legislation was introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Under the bill, USDA would be required to create a national disclosure system for foods containing ingredients from biotech crops. Such disclosure could come from a label, or a QR code on a package, or a symbol and phone number for people to call. USDA would have effectively two years to create such a label. In the meantime, the legislation would also block states from setting their own requirements. A Vermont law requiring GMO labels went into effect last week in that state.

The procedural hurdle of hitting at least 60 votes all but assures final passage of the bill. An earlier version of the legislation failed earlier this spring after Democrats largely opposed it.

Following the vote, Stabenow said, "This is an important step forward. I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan agreement that will ensure consumers in every state have easy access to important information through a mandatory, national label for foods containing GMOs."

Agricultural groups on Wednesday also largely praised the vote and called on Congress to continue advancing the legislation to get it signed by the president.

"The Senate today did the right thing by voting to move toward a full debate on the merits of the GMO labeling bill," said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "The legislation is not perfect, but it does take critical steps to prevent a confusing 50-state patchwork of laws disclosing the presence of entirely harmless ingredients. It is time for the Senate to pass this legislation so the House can do likewise at its first opportunity."

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said the Senate bill creates "a uniform national food disclosure standard" that would ensure consumers have access to more information about their food. At the same time, the legislation preserves the value of biotechnology for farmers by avoiding a label that demonizes GMOs.

"Senators Roberts and Stabenow have shown tremendous leadership in both crafting this legislation and shepherding through to the vote today and they should be applauded for their efforts on behalf of farmers, co-ops and consumers," said Conner, who also served as co-chair of the coalition championing legislation to block states from implementing their own labeling laws. "We hope that once the Senate takes a final vote on the measure that the House will take it up and pass it -- and that the President will sign it -- before Congress goes into recess for the party conventions."

The Center for Food Safety "condemned" the vote, stating it would deny more than 100 million people their right to know what is in their food because the bill allows companies to use QR codes for smartphones and other technology.

Stabenow rejected that argument earlier in the day on the Senate floor, citing a study showing 82% of U.S. homes have at least one smartphone. She also said most grocers would continue to push for labels on packages regardless of what Congress does.

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this article.

(CC/AG)

Jerry Hagstrom