Federal GMO Labeling Bill Sparks Controversy, Passes Senate

By a 63-30 bipartisan vote, the United States Senate approved a federal GMO labeling bill introduced in June by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas and ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Roberts and Stabenow have been publicly working on the terms of the bill since early this year in response to a federal bill that would have prohibited mandatory labeling and Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling requirements that took effect July 1 (with a six-month grace period).

The labeling bill sparked heated debate among organic leaders, consumer and environmental groups, and other stakeholders. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) worked closely on the bill and released a statement outlining its position in support. Many individuals and organizations oppose the bill. OTA supports the bill because it has several protections for organic producers, including protection for the National Organic Program (NOP) authority to define and regulate biotechnology in organic products and the explicit allowance of organic producers to make non-GMO label claims.

Those opposing the bill argue that the bill exempts too many types of GMO technologies and food products from mandatory labels. Moreover, the opposition does not support the bill’s provisions that allows for symbols and electronic barcodes in place of clear disclosure statements (e.g., a company may be able to use a barcode that consumers would have to scan with their smart phones instead of stating on the label “produced with genetic engineering”).

Observers expect that the bill will pass the United States House of Representatives and end up on President Obama’s desk to sign into law.

CCOF continues to monitor the bill closely. CCOF has not taken a position on the bill at this time. For more information, contact policy@ccof.org.