The Senate voted down legislation that would make labeling of genetically modified foods, or GMOs, voluntary, allowing for states to set their own transparency rules. The bill needed 60 votes but came up short, 49-48, on Wednesday.
The “Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Act,” would have asked manufacturers to voluntarily provide a phone number, website, or QR code to provide information about GMOs in food. This would have also given the U.S. Department of Agriculture the right to mandate the bill if an insufficient amount of companies elected to comply, and blocked Vermont from implementing the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law, which is set to take effect July 1.
In 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 274-150 to approve the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” which preempted state laws by creating a federal standard for the voluntary labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, of Kansas, introduced the bill, called the “DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act,” by opponents, in February, and was hotly contested within the food industry. Food Policy Action co-founder Tom Colicchio said at the time, “Senator Roberts’ ridiculous new version of the DARK Act would deny us the right to know what’s in our food and how it’s grown—the same right held by consumers in 64 other nations. Consumers should be trusted to decide their own food choices, but Senator Roberts apparently thinks Washington knows best. This is exactly the sort of crony capitalism that voters across the country are rejecting.”
Just 48 hours after releasing a petition, Food Policy Action had garnered 2,000 chef signatures from 47 states. It ended up with more than 4,000 supporters.
“Consumers in 64 other countries have the right to know whether the food they buy contains GMOs, and consumers in the United States should have that same choice. Senator Roberts’ outrageous new bill is exactly the kind of anti-transparency measure that voters across the country are rejecting,” Colicchio explains.
After hearing about the Senate's voting, Colicchio released a statement, saying, "Today’s vote marked an important milestone for the more than 90 percent of Americans who want GMOs to be labeled. I am hopeful that the Senate will now work to craft a bipartisan mandatory on-pack GMO labeling bill that doesn’t demonize science and gives consumers the information they demand.”
Supporters of the bill claimed that it would be costly for producers to deal with the varying state labeling laws or even a nationwide standard. Also, there’s still debate over whether foods containing GMO ingredients are actually unsafe. Scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Health Association, and World Health Organization, have said that genetically modified foods are safe to eat. The labels could create customer confusion on the topic and, according to some, raise grocery bills.