A Senate committee will begin hearings this week to try to draft a national GMO labeling bill – but apparently not a mandatory one – in time to pre-empt the July 1 start of a labeling law in Vermont.
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, scheduled the meeting for 10 a.m. Thursday (Feb. 25). His aides would not elaborate on the bill, but other media reports said it should resemble legislation the House passed last year.
“This chairman's mark [draft of the legislation] serves as a framework to find a solution for a patchwork of laws, and I will continue to work with members of the Agriculture Committee on potential amendments," Roberts said. "However, we are out of time. The time to act is now. Negotiations will continue in an effort to reach committee agreement.”
The committee's top Democrat, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said she would continue to work with Roberts on the bill.
Other reports said there have been several recent meetings between representatives of the food & beverage industry – who generally oppose any labeling scheme – and groups interested in mandatory national labeling, but no compromise has been reached. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told an Iowa newspaper late last year he planned to call the groups together in January, but USDA spokespeople would not say if that meeting ever took place.
Last summer, a bipartisan bill, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599), was passed by the House of Representatives. It would require the FDA to review genetically engineered ingredients intended for food and to decide on a case-by-case basis if a "contains GMOs" label is necessary for a resulting food product. So labeling would not be mandatory. Perhaps more importantly – and more contentious – the bill also would prevent individual states from creating their own GMO (genetically modified organisms) labeling laws.
The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients. While the FDA says they are safe and there is little scientific concern about their safety, advocates for labeling say not enough is known about their risks.
Vermont in 2014 passed a law requiring GMO labeling for most products sold in that state. After withstanding two years of legal challenges, the law will go into effect this July 1. Maine and Connecticut have passed similar laws, but without enactment dates. And several other states are considering labeling bills.