Ag Policy Blog

Groups React to Failed Senate Vote on Biotech Food Labels

By Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor

The votes weren't there in the U.S. Senate to back farmers and the food industry that has built itself around the efficiency, quality and quantity derived from biotech seed traits.

Leaders from some agricultural groups vented over the outcome. “It is inexcusable that today’s Senate vote on a voluntary federal GMO labeling bill that preempts a damaging patchwork of state measures fell short," stated Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Duvall added, “To say we are angry with those senators who abandoned farmers and ranchers and turned their backs on rural America on this vote is an understatement. Their votes opposing this measure ignored science, threw our nation’s food system into disarray and undermined the public’s understanding of the many benefits of biotechnology in feeding a growing and hungry population. "

Pro-labeling and anti-biotech groups crowed after the Senate deadlocked 48-49 in a vote that needed 60 votes to pass. Food & Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety and Food Policy Action each praised the vote. They have called the bill the "DARK Act," claiming it would "deny Americans the right to know."

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added the 49th vote against the bill, largely as a procedural move because that allows him to potentially bring up the bill back later for a revote.

Five other Republicans joined 43 Democrats voting against the bill, including Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Three Democrats joined with 45 Republicans: Tom Carper of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio did not vote.

The Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food -- a mix of various groups representing farmers, farmer cooperatives and food processors -- expressed their disappointment with the outcome.

“This is the most pressing issue currently facing the food and agriculture industries, so it is disappointing that despite nearly 800 groups united in support behind this reasonable solution, the Senate could not get it across the finish line today,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, added. “Despite today’s vote, there continues to be a strong bipartisan consensus to protect American consumers from the increased food costs and confusion of a 50-state patchwork of labeling laws,”

The National Milk Producers Federation and National Corn Growers Association also expressed frustration over the vote. Chip Bowling, a Maryland farmer and president of the corn growers, said a patchwork of state labeling requirements would end up hurting farmers and consumers.

"Given the overwhelming scientific evidence of the safety of this technology and the vital role it will play in meeting the growing need to feed a growing global population, on-pack labeling that would create confusion and stigmatize biotechnology serves only a small activist population at the expense of consumers," Bowling said.

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Curt Zingula 3/17/2016 | 7:32 AM CDT
So, this was a vote against Robert's bill or something else? I've lost track of alternative proposals and amendments. Is the 'smart' label dead or does that now have a chance to come up for a vote? Does it occur to the "right to know" people that there could also be a right to educate yourself about science so you know what you're talking about? Or am I confusing that with the right to be stupid?! Or the right to belly-ache chronically?
Bonnie Dukowitz 3/17/2016 | 6:02 AM CDT
Would the label "Not for sale in Vermont" satisfy the requirement?