The Senate left town for its two-week Easter recess without resolving the genetically modified organism labeling issue. Last week, the Senate failed to reach cloture on the GMO labeling legislation that would preempt state GMO labeling laws.
Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-KS), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, voluntary labeling proposal would allow food makers to disclose GMOs in a variety of ways, including call centers, websites, SmartLabel, etc. Companies would not be required to do anything unless a voluntary disclosure program fails to cover a minimum of 70% of the food supply in three years.
Roberts’ approach has strong support of the agriculture and food industry, but is opposed by the mandatory labeling crowd. The opponents of the voluntary program want wording or a symbol on the labels so consumers will know immediately if the product contains biotech ingredients. This approach is strongly opposed by the food industry.
An alternative by Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) would trigger the disclosure mandate if 80% of food products aren’t covered by a voluntary system. Donnelly would also require that labels bear a telephone number through which consumers can get direct access to information about the product. With the fast approaching July 1 Vermont deadline of mandatory labeling and with other states considering similar legislation, efforts are continuing to find a compromise for the Senate to consider when it returns.
Senators recognize that a 50-state patchwork is not realistic. However, some companies are not waiting for Congress to act. General Mills Inc. announced that it will start labeling its products for biotech ingredients. Campbell Soup Co. made a similar announcement in January.