The Senate today (March 15) began floor debate on a voluntary GMO labeling bill from its own Agriculture Committee, and a full vote, at least a procedural one, could come as early as tomorrow.
Being debated is a bill crafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), which would create a voluntary national standard for food labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and, perhaps more importantly, would pre-empt a labeling law in Vermont set to take effect July 1.
With some additions meant to draw needed Democratic support, Roberts' bill would provide one incentive for food & beverage marketers to provide the information: If the voluntary program does not provide sufficient information after at least three years, a mandatory labeling program would go into effect.
Media reports say the bill is gaining support and may have enough votes to pass.
However, Senate Democrats – including Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee – have written an alternate bill that would make labeling mandatory. Food processors could choose among four options: stating "genetically engineered" in parentheses next to an ingredient; identifying GMO ingredients with an asterisk and explaining that asterisk at the bottom of the ingredients list; applying a statement at the end of the ingredient list saying the product was “produced with genetic engineering”; or using a symbol on the label, designed by USDA, to disclose the presence of GMOs.
Even if passed, the Senate bill would have to be reconciled with a House bill passed last year, which also makes labeling voluntary.