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Compromise bill on GMO labeling lands on president’s desk

The Senate compromise bill for labeling food with genetically modified ingredients is on its way to President Obama’s desk after gaining a solid 306-117 bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives early this afternoon.

ovaloffice_406x250Passage of S. 764 came with 101 Democrats joining 205 Republicans in a vote that pre-empts any state labeling of food produced with genetically engineered ingredients. The only state law in effect is Vermont’s, which took effect two weeks ago on July 1.

Under the compromise bill, which passed the Senate last week on a 63-30 vote, the Secretary of Agriculture would be responsible for coming up with a a symbol or notice about GMOs — genetically modified organisms — that food manufacturers can use on their packages. QR codes that can be scanned with smartphones, websites and toll-free telephone numbers are also options.

More than 1,000 food and agricultural organizations came down in favor of the compromise. Many of those issued press statements immediately after the vote. And the Organic Trade Association, which helped craft the compromise, was paying the price with its loss of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association withdrew from the broader group citing its “duplicity” as the reason.

If the president signs the bill into law, it will allow food producers to choose how they want to disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients in their products. Some opponents are seeking a presidential veto.

In a letter circulated by the technology-adverse Center for Food Safety, civil rights leaderJesse Jackson is asking Obama to veto the compromise bill because of its reliance on smart phones.

The Wall Street Journal found the objection to bar codes amusing. “That’s rich: Folks affluent enough to pay a 50 percent markup for organic kale are suddenly concerned about low income families who benefit from biotechnological advances making food less expensive,” a WSJ editorial said.

Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), urged Obama to “sign this bill quickly.” GMA did much of the heavy lifting on behalf of the national labeling law.

“Vermont’s mandatory on-package GMO labeling law took effect on July 1 and threatens the nation’s food supply chain with costly and lasting disruptions, Bailey said. “Already, consumers in Vermont are finding fewer products on the shelves and small businesses are facing higher costs of compliance.”

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