On Wednesday, a bill requiring the labelling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients overcame one of its biggest obstacles in the Senate, increasing our chances of achieving a national standard for labelling that will finally end the fight that has been boiling in the food industry for years.
The bill requires food manufacturers to use one of three types of labels to inform consumers of which items are genetically engineered. Though the food industry, including powerful Washington lobbying group the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has been pushing for the QR code option for months, critics like the nonprofit Center for Food Safety believe the QR codes will be confusing for consumers.
The approval is a big deal for food companies, farm groups, and the biotech industry, which began pushing to reject the Vermont labelling law that went into effect last Friday.
The Senate bill got the 60 votes needed to move the matter to a vote, which could be held as early as today, Thursday (July 7). Visitors in the gallery threw cash on the Senate floor to protest contributions made by Monsanto to senators supporting the bill.
“From my perspective, it’s not the best possible bill, but it’s the best bill possible under the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in today,” said Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas who contributed to the legislation.
Supporters of labelling and of Vermont’s law are outraged over the bill, which does not impose penalties or fines for noncompliance by food companies. This means many genetically engineered ingredients may slip through the cracks —exempt from labelling requirements.
“If this bill becomes law, the industry wins what are essentially voluntary requirements under this G.M.O. labeling ‘compromise,’ ” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group.
The bill, introduced in June by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), has been slammed by critics who have accused the two senators, among others, of being in bed with Big Ag, even saying that those who support the bill received more than twice as much money in campaign donations from companies such as Monsanto than opponents.
While both Republicans and Democrats foresee the bill getting final approval in the senate, it still has to stand up in the House.
On Tuesday, Mr. Roberts said he had spoken with Representative Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, but was unsure of how the House would vote. “I would describe his viewpoint as guarded,” Mr. Roberts said of Mr. Conaway, a Republican congressman from Texas. “They do not want a mandatory bill, but this is the last train that is leaving town.”
It is also unclear whether President Obama will sign the bill.
Proponents of labelling believe that text on packages is the only way to truly provide transparency to consumers. And Senator Bernie Sanders raised concerns over the definition in the bill for determining which foods must have labels, thereby proposing the theory that if the bill does become a law, a downward spiral of challenges are certainly to follow.
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