The U.S. Senate on Wednesday advanced a bill to set national standards for labeling food produced with GMOs — a measure that would preempt the more stringent Vermont law that took effect just last week.
Vermont’s congressional delegation opposes the bipartisan Senate bill. The bill would allow food manufacturers to disclose GMO ingredients by labeling products with codes that consumers could scan via smartphone. Critics say that would be insufficient to inform consumers.
The bill cleared the 60-vote threshold to advance on Wednesday, setting the stage for a formal Senate vote to pass it that could occur as early as Thursday.
It would supersede Vermont’s law, which requires food manufacturers and retailers to label products made with GMOs. The state’s law confused some local retailers.
The food industry is backing the Senate bill. Supporters argue that a national versus a state-by-state approach is preferable. Labeling advocates have criticized the Senate bill as too lax.
“The timing of this legislation is not an accident,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Its goal is to overturn and rescind the very significant legislation passed in the state of Vermont. I will do everything that I can to see that it’s defeated.”
If approved by the Senate, the bill would also need to be passed by the Republican-controlled House and signed by President Barack Obama to become law.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he would offer a series of amendments to strengthen the Senate bill, including grandfathering Vermont’s labeling law.
“Companies are already labeling foods that contain genetic engineering,” Leahy said. “It can be done. It should be done. More than 60 countries across the globe require [GMO] labeling. American consumers want and deserve no less. I am proud that Vermont has led the way on a pro-consumer, pro-disclosure label, and I will continue to fight efforts to undermine it.”
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who signed the state’s GMO labeling law in 2014, released a statement Wednesday afternoon. “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,” Shumlin said. “This flawed bill is a capitulation to the food industry that does not even come close to providing the transparency that consumers deserve.”