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Senate splits over labeling food with genetically engineered ingredients

usenatechamber_406x250A divided U.S. Senate Wednesday could not invoke cloture to bring the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Bill to vote. The cloture vote, which required 60 for passage, failed by a dozen votes, 48-49.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, would have stopped states from imposing their own labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients.

Roberts says pre-empting the states is required for national uniformity.  He says the alternative is a “wrecking ball” that is going to cost the average family more than $1,000 a year in higher food bills, and upend producers.

The bill  would have amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to include national voluntary bioengineered food labeling standards.  The Secretary of Agriculture would have been empowered under the bill to promulgate regulations, which would prohibit express or implied claims involving safety or quality over whether food is produced with bioengineering.

After losing the vote, Robert called upon his “colleagues across the aisle to come to the negotiating table to address the problems facing the national’s marketplace should states continues to mandate confusing and differing biotechnology labeling standards.”

Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he’s been flexible and willing to compromise to protect farmers, manufacturers , retailers, and consumers,” but his opponents have not been willing.

Federal law does not currently required genetically engineered food to make any disclosures on the label, largely because there is no safely issue involved. Vermont, on July 1, is going to impose labeling requirements on genetically engineered  food sold in that state.

Maine and Connecticut have passed similar bills, but won’t begin enforcement until other states in the region join the movement.

’Transparency is everything, “ said Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT. “Transparency leads to accountability and gives power to Americans. It’s true when we talk about food, too. Free markets work when consumers have access to information.”

“But this bill does none of those things, “ Tester added. “it just keeps folks in the dark.”

Others expressed disappointment, but a willingness to keep working the issue.

“This is the most pressing issue currently facing the food and agriculture industries, so it is disappointing that despite nearly 800 groups united in support behind this reasonable solution, the Senate could not get it across the finish line today,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

“Despite today’s vote, there continues to be a strong bipartisan consensus to protect American consumers from the increased food costs and confusion of a 50-state patchwork of labeling laws,” added Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “GMA is committed to rolling up our sleeves to work with Chairman Roberts and Senator Stabenow so that the Senate can enact a bipartisan solution in the near future.”

Federal pre-exemption on GMO labeling came easier in the House.  The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 passed the lower chamber on a bipartisan vote of 275-150 on July 23, 2015. Roberts has spent  months since then working on the now stalled Senate bill.

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