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Senate reignites GMO labeling debate

Committee to vote on draft bill to block state food labeling laws

by Britt E. Erickson
February 26, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 9

Group of protestors holding signs that call for labeling of genetically modified foods.
Credit: A Katz/
The U.S. debate over labeling genetically modified foods is intensifying.

The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry Committee is expected to vote as early as this week on legislation that would prohibit states from requiring labels on genetically modified foods. A draft version of the bill, released earlier this month by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), has rekindled debate over labeling GMO foods.

The measure has garnered broad support from the food and agriculture industry, which is pushing for a national approach to labeling GMO foods. In the absence of federal action, several states have passed their own laws that would require labels on such foods. The first of these state laws will go into effect in July in Vermont—unless Congress stops it.

In a Feb. 23 letter to Roberts, hundreds of farmers, food manufacturers, and other industry representatives urged lawmakers to quickly pass the bill, which has yet to be formally introduced. They claim that a patchwork of state food labeling laws will harm producers and lead to higher food prices.

Food safety and consumer groups, however, are strongly opposed to Roberts’s bill, saying it would deny consumers the right to know what is in their food.

Some Democrats are also speaking out against the bill, including presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who claims that the majority of Americans favor labeling of GMO foods. “We cannot allow the interests of Monsanto and other multinational food industry corporations to prevail,” Sanders says.

The House of Representatives passed a similar bill (H.R. 1599) last year that would also prohibit states from requiring the labeling of GMO foods.


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