Senate approves GMO labeling bill
The first national labeling bill for genetically modified organisms passed the U.S. Senate Thursday night.
The bi-partisan bill was approved, 63-30, and creates a standard for food to be labeled if it contains genetically modified organisms nationwide. Previously, the decision of labeling was left up to states. Only one state — Vermont —has a GMO labeling law in effect, but several have adopted similar laws that have not been enacted. States like Colorado and Oregon voted on bills similar to Vermont’s in 2014, but the measures didn’t pass.
“Today is a victory for farmers, ranchers, sound science and anyone who eats on a budget,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee in a statement Thursday. “Getting to an agreement wasn’t easy, but today’s strong showing in the Senate is a result of the way we get things done in the Agriculture Committee — with hard work and bipartisanship. I thank Ranking Member (Debbie) Stabenow for her continued partnership.”
The bill rallied support from many in the Senate, including Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
“I think that what we saw, for once, in Washington last night when we passed this bill in the Senate was a reasonable compromise,” Bennet said. “It says we do have a right to know what it’s our food and we do it in a way that it doesn’t scare people and we want to give some flexibility rather than a one-size fits all approach.”
Bennet voted against the optional labeling bill Senate discussed earlier this year.
Those who were opposed to the bill said labeling options — particularly the QR code — are not efficient enough to let consumers know what’s in a product. Dave Eckhardt, president of Colorado Corn and LaSalle, Colo. corn farmer, said consumers want their information in different ways, but getting a national standard is the concern for farmers.
“I think everybody has a different want of the information that they’re after,” Eckhardt said Thursday. “It’s a cost issue for anyone who has to go ahead and label it. I get that idea for multiple options, and I think in the long run, a consumer is going to let (companies) know what’s acceptable.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., addressed Senate Thursday evening, and said the bill has a “Monsanto loophole.” The agriculture company, as many do, uses GMOs in its crops, and Merkley said the bills requirement to label products ‘that contain genetic material’ exempts certain products, like oil, that doesn’t have genetic material from being labeled containing GMOs. The problem, Merkley said, comes when the oils were based in foods, like soybeans, that were grown with GMOs.
Monsanto’s interest in the bill drew protestors to the Senate Wednesday who threw $2,000 in paper money, disrupting the Senate while chanting “The Senate can be bought.” The protesters claimed support for the bill comes from senators who are bribed by Monsanto. Merkley said, since most Americans — regardless of political preference — back a labeling bill, which the Senate could make a law, which citizens overwhelmingly support.
“I’d love to tell you that was the case, because wouldn’t that be complimentary to this body,” Merkley said on the floor Thursday. “But something destructive has happened in America. This chamber seems to no longer care about the consumers in America.”
Ruth Chantry works on a certified organic farmer in Raymond, Neb. Chantry’s farm grows vegetables and raises some livestock. She said the bill is too lenient.
“I think United States farmers are clever and hardworking,” she said. “They want to grow food that people want to it. They can adjust, they can work with it. If it’s non-GMO (consumers want), they’ll grow non-GMO.”
In support of the bill, tweets from the office of Senate Ranking Member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., gave examples of why a national labeling standard should be set. One tweet showed a photo of two vegetable soup cans, but one contained ham. Meat products do not have to be labeled as genetically modified or engineered under the Vermont law, but under the proposed federal standard, meat would require a label, and so would both cans.
The bill will go to the House of Representative, where the bill is expected to pass.
“Tonight’s vote is the most important vote for agriculture in the last 20 years,” Roberts said in a press release. “We worked hard to ensure the marketplace works for everyone. I mean everyone. Our legislation allows farmers to continue using sound science to produce more food with less resources, gives flexibility to food manufacturers in disclosing information, and gives access to more food information that consumers demand.” ❖
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