Senate to discuss GMO labeling: Two opposing bills introduced in Congress to look at genetically engineered foods
March 11, 2016
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry took a step towards a national standard for labeling genetically modified organisms.
If the bill goes into effect, it will be voluntary to label GMO foods and will supersede state laws which mandate labeling. The committee voted in favor of the bill, proposed by Sen. Pat Roberts, Kan., 14-6.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. was one of the six to vote against the bill.
"We remain committed to finding a bipartisan solution that eliminates the potential for an onerous patchwork of state laws and strikes the right balance for Colorado producers, food and beverage makers, distributors, retailers and consumers," Bennet said in a news release. "Unfortunately, this proposal doesn't strike that balance. We'll continue working toward a compromise that can pass the Senate."
Those in favor of the bill said if it's put into affect, it will be easier to sell food in every state.
"By having that one national standard, that creates a process," said Brent Boydston, Vice President of Public Policy for the Colorado Farm Bureau.
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Boydston said some foods without GMOs have a label already in use, if they choose to put it on their packaging, which distinguishes the difference.
However, there is a Senate bill that was proposed Wednesday in response to the voluntary bill. The new bill would require labeling GMO products, but instead of a general product label would set a national standard that would require marking which individual ingredients contain GMOs.
"Our policy says people are entitled to know what they're eating," said Bill Midcap, director of external affairs for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. The RMFU is in favor of the bill that would require labeling individual ingredients. "We don't think we can do this on a state-by-state basis."
Part of what both bills will do is take away the state-by-state policy regarding GMO labeling, which will help farmers across the country, as it will have one standard to conform to, rather different ones for every state.
Row crops like corn and wheat would largely be impacted by a GMO label. Vegetables, overwhelmingly, do not use GMOs, but the idea of GMO labeling can become problematic, according to Dave Petrocco of Petrocco Farms in LaSalle and Brighton.
"It would increase the cost of the product, and there isn't a need for it (with vegetables)," Petrocco said.
The bill to make GMOs voluntary comes at a time when Vermont is only a few months away from laws requiring GMO labeling going into affect. But even then, like most labeling-laws, there is a catch.
For example, if a food product without meat has a GMO product in it, it must be labeled. However, if the same product has meat in it, then the label isn't required because the Vermont law doesn't require a label for meat products.
That's why some, like Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said creating a requirement for labeling GMO products isn't about the food itself.
"This is not a health issue," Sonnenberg said. "This is a market issue where some people want to drag down agriculture."
Sonnenberg said the requirement of GMO labeling can hurt farmers, as market consumers who already care about GMOs will know what food to eat and what to avoid.
Sugar beet farmers took a hit last year from Hersey Co. when the company moved away from the use of sugar beets used when making candy, as GMOs are used in the seeds. Therefore, most products from Hershey is made with sugar cane.
Jacquie Monroe of Kersey said people need to know what is in their food, but an international standard would be preferred over a federal one.
"I think it comes down to consumerism and what each country is needing or wanting based on their consumers," she said.