The GMO war rages on after a close vote in the Senate last week addressing proposed voluntary, national standards for GMO labeling. A 48-49 split means the Senate failed to invoke cloture to bring the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Bill to vote.
The bill, if enacted, would have prevented states from enacting their own legislation addressing GMO labeling and would have created national uniformity with a set of voluntary bioengineered food labeling standards.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) who also serves as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, sponsored the bill. Proponents assert that voluntary, national standards would benefit farmers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers. A “patchwork” system of varying state laws would undoubtedly drive up the cost of groceries and food products for consumers as a result of increased production costs. It would create a myriad of issues for producers having to comply with, potentially, 50 different sets of labeling laws.
Debates over GMO labeling has been a hot topic for some time now, but the split vote in the Senate this week came as a surprise to many after the House of Representatives passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (“SAFLA”) by a wide-spread margin (275-150) last July. SAFLA, also a product of bipartisan efforts, likewise would have created federal pre-emption of GMO labeling.
Not surprisingly there are staunch opponents. The health-focused, wellness-minded sector of Americans are fighting for mandatory labeling and what they deem as full disclosure. Those in favor of mandatory labeling argue that the public has a right to know what is in food products and that transparency is a must. Without proper disclosures, they feel they are left in the dark. Not coincidentally, opponents referred to SAFLA as the” DARK” Act, or “Deny the Americans the Right to Know” Act.
Vermont is set to be the first state with mandated GMO labeling, which will go into effect on July 1st. Unless some unforeseen legislative action occurs in the next three and a half months, the state’s previously approved legislation will go live this summer as there is no federal law preempting it. Other states, undoubtedly, will follow. Meanwhile, legislators will likely continue to propose legislation which industry groups and participants should actively follow and voice their support for.
Please feel free to contact a member of Cozen O’Connor’s Food and Beverage industry team for more information about the subject of this blog post or how Cozen O’Connor can be of help to you and your organization.