US Senate proponents of mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMO) have hammered out a deal that would require the USDA to issue a nationwide labelling standard within two years.
Led by Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Senator Pat Roberts, the committee’s chair, the bill could hit the Senate floor for a vote next week, Agra Europe’s US-based sister title Food Chemical News reports..
Stabenow calls the bill “a win” for consumers, farmers and food producers and says it closes “glaring loopholes” under the Vermont law which would have allowed thousands of processed food products, such as frozen dinners that contain meat and GMO ingredients, to go unlabelled.
Under Vermont’s law, a cheese pizza could be labelled but a pepperoni pizza could not, even if it contained a GMO ingredient, she says. The agreement also ensures organic producers can clearly display a “non-GMO” label in addition to the organic seal, she says
Under the bill’s provisions, USDA’s implementing regulation would “prohibit a food derived from an animal to be considered a bioengineered food solely because the animal consumed feed produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered substance.” The bill also excludes food served in a restaurant or similar retail food and very small food manufacturers.
The bill would clearly restrict the ability of states to issue such laws. It says no State or political subdivision of a State can establish any requirement relating to the labelling or disclosure of whether a food was produced using bioengineering for a food that is subject to the national bioengineered food disclosure standard… that is not identical to the mandatory disclosure requirement under that standard.
Stakeholder groups unleashed a deluge of press statements.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) welcomed the bill, saying it was “a long time coming.”
ASA noted the bill would allow a variety of labelling options, including quick-response (QR) codes, 800-numbers, websites and on-pack labeling, allowing companies to select the method of disclosure that works best for their range of products.
“There are 30 soybean-growing states in the US—that’s the 60 votes we need to pass the bill in the Senate,” said ASA spokesman Ron Moore.
The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) called for “expeditious support” for the bill.
“We hope both the House and Senate can come together expeditiously to pass a national labeling standard that will prevent harmful disruptions in the nation’s supply chain.” said NGFA’s President Randy Gordon.
“This is the solution needed,” said Grocery Manufacturers Association President and CEO Pamela Bailey, in a joint statement with her co-chair on the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, Charles Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. The coalition describes itself as representing “the entire American agriculture food chain – from farm to fork,” and “committed to increasing the public’s understanding about the science and safety of GMOs and advocating for a uniform labeling solution.
Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, said the announcement “brings us closer to providing clear labeling guidelines for genetically engineered crops.” He said he will be “closely reviewing this bill and listening to stakeholder input as this process moves forward.”
Texas Congressman Mike Conaway, House Agriculture Committee chairman, noted that House members voted on a bill nearly a year ago to establish a voluntary nationwide program.
“Unfortunately, due to Senator Stabenow dragging this process out for months, Congress will not be able to act before Vermont’s mandatory labeling law goes into effect on July 1,” he said. “Although the House acted in a timely manner, I have just received the text of the this agreement and will need time to review the language and the varied impacts, be they positive or negative, before stating my support or opposition.”