GMO labeling bill clears a first hurdle in the Senate

But as Harvest Public Media's Peggy Lowe reports, it's still a food fight.

The bill has been a matter of priority for feed organizations including the NGFA and American Feed and Industry Association (AFIA) because it addresses the labeling of animal feed and products from animals that eat feed that includes biotech or genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. That's because the overwhelming majority of consumers say they want to know if there are GMO's in their food.

In a letter to Conaway, USDA's general counsel assured him that the legislation would immediately preempt Vermont's GMO labeling mandate, which took effect July 1, and bar any other states from imposing requirements that differ from the new federal standards.

The Senate bill would allow most food companies three methods of disclosure through a digital code that can be read smartphones or with a symbol or text on package labels. The bill would force food companies nationwide to disclose genetically modified ingredients in their products, but opponents have complained it's toothless because it imposes no penalties for noncompliance and seems to exempt a variety of genetically engineered foods.

Last March, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts put a bill before Congress that attempted to end the GMO debate by making it optional for companies to put GMO-labeling on their food.

The Senate bill, for instance, says that any organic product can automatically be labeled "non-GMO".

"We are very pleased with the Senate's progress on this bill", said NAWG President Gordon Stoner.

Shumlin said Wednesday, "It's a sad day when so many members of the U.S. Senate sell out to big food and big business and turn their backs on those who elected them".

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, who voted against cloture, began the GMO labeling proceedings by chastising the Republican Senate leadership for moving ahead with S. 764 without amendments. The 65 votes means the bill can withstand filibuster.

If the bill doesn't pass, Roberts warned, a patchwork of state labeling laws will soon wreak havoc on the flow of interstate commerce. The federal bill has drawn criticism far and wide, after food industry giants like Monsanto and Whole Foods made hefty financial contributions to senators backing the bill. In 2014, Vermont passed a law requiring the labeling of genetically engineered whole foods and foods containing ingredients derived from genetically modified crops like corn, soy, canola and sugar beets.

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