Despite a summer of lobbying trying to find Democratic backers in the Senate, a bill meant to block state-by-state biotech labeling requirements may stall out in the Senate this year.
The House passed HR 1599, known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, in late July with bi-partisan support as 45 Democrats joined 230 Republicans to approve the bill. That strong vote initially bolstered supporters.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday that the short answer and the long answer is that the biggest problem with the labeling bill in the Senate is the lack of any Democratic co-sponsor.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was planning to introduce the legislation in the Senate, but he has held off on doing so. A spokesman for Hoeven stated in an email to DTN, "The senator believes the bill has to be both bipartisan and able to get enough votes for it to pass. We’re still talking to potential cosponsors."
Grassley supports the bill, but other Republican senators more focused on the legislation have noted the difficulty finding language that can garner Democratic support.
"The House bill won't pass the Senate so you have got to find some language that can pass the Senate and still pass the House and still accomplish what we want," Grassley said.
The bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to set up a federal labeling standard, but restrict labeling for such foods to products when FDA deems there may be a health or safety risk. The main point of the bill, however, is that it would block states from creating their own biotech labeling laws. Vermont is moving ahead with a mandate as early as next year while Connecticut and Maine set rules requiring other states to mandate such labels before theirs would go into effect.
The bill also would allow a "non-bioengineered food certification" label that would be overseen by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, similar to the USDA organic label. Supporters of the bill say this voluntary labeling measure would help consumers who wish to buy foods free of genetically modified crops.
HR 1599 is backed by a coalition of roughly 370 various food companies and agricultural trade associations. Still, the bill also has major opposition from groups that resist biotechnology or champion organic foods.
Grassley also noted it isn't clear whether every Republican would vote for the labeling act.
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