GMO Food Labeling Approved by Senate

Food safety, FSMAOn July 7, the U.S. Senate approved legislation requiring food packaging to display genetically-modified organism (GMO) contents using words, pictures or scannable bar codes in a 63-30 vote.1  The House passed the legislation a week later by a vote of 306-117. Farm groups and food manufacturing associations praised the passage of the bill. President Obama is expected to sign it into law.2 The law says that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) decides which ingredients will be designated as genetically modified. The Agriculture Department would have two years to write the rules. But, of course, not everyone is happy about the new labeling legislation…

You Can’t Please Everyone

qr-phoneSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an opponent of the legislation, called the system “confusing, misleading and unenforceable.”  The anti-GMO groups feel there’s a catch. The labels won’t have to include words or photos. Food companies could instead use a QR code — a bar code that is scanned by smartphones — to inform consumers.3 Vermont, Sanders’s constituency, one of the first states to implement GMO labeling laws, had implemented more stringent legislation and it was feared that Vermont’s law would not be compatible with other states that might also pass GMO labeling laws.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

“This bill is a sweetheart deal for the food and agrichemical industries, who want to keep consumers guessing about the contents of their food,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) noted that this favors the agribusiness giant at the heart of the GM food industry. “One thing we know is that Monsanto’s three main crops produce derivatives that do not have genetic information,” Merkley said, referring to oils and beet sugar. “This clause appears to be one that would make Monsanto jump for joy.”4

Despite the opposition from Vermont’s congressional delegation, the Senate approved the legislation. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, and Rep. Peter Welch argued that the measure falls short, “especially compared with the tougher labeling requirements in their state.” The new bill gives companies the three options for labeling, while the Vermont law requires items be labeled “produced with genetic engineering.”


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Tim Cansler
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