The Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday passed legislation by a vote of 14 to 6 to preempt state laws requiring labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The legislation, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration, directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a voluntary labeling standard for foods that are bioengineered.
“Simply put, the legislation before us provides an immediate and comprehensive solution to the state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws," said Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, in an opening statement before the vote. “It sets national uniformity, based on science, for labeling food or seeds that are genetically engineered."
Roberts said the legislation has received the support of more than 650 farmers, cooperatives, agribusinesses, processors, seed makers, handlers, food and feed manufacturers, lenders and retailers.
Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), lauded the passage of the bill.
“This strong and bipartisan vote is a victory for working families, farmers, and food companies," Bailey said in a statement. “This legislation ensures that consumers get consistent information about food and beverage ingredients, prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates, and provides the same labeling rules to shoppers across the country."
GMA is hoping the House and Senate both vote on and pass the legislation before Vermont’s GE labeling law takes effect on July 1, 2016. A similar bill—the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599)—was passed last July by the House.
The attempts to preempt state labeling laws are not without controversy. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, characterized the legislation passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee as “an insult to the American people, who have overwhelmingly and repeatedly called for mandatory GMO labeling." Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass a GE labeling law in 2013, although it doesn’t take effect unless other states pass similar measures.
“This legislation undermines strong state GMO-labeling laws, like Connecticut’s, and thwarts efforts to ensure consumers have access to basic, on-package information about what they are feeding their families," Blumenthal said in a statement. “Industry claims that such labeling will raise the cost of food are unfounded—as demonstrated by Campbell’s support for the mandatory labeling of products containing genetically engineered ingredients."