Legislation which would create a new national labeling standard for products containing genetically modified organisms, GMOs, failed to pass in the U.S. Senate after being defeated 48-49.
The bill, introduced by Senator and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), was introduced in order to prevent states from establishing their own GMO labeling requirements. Vermont was the state that sparked this debate after legislators there passed a law in 2014 that requires a label on all products containing GMOs. That law goes into effect in July.
By attempting to set a national standard, lawmakers hoped it would prevent the chaos that would ensue on U.S. commerce if different states had different requirements. The process would be voluntary, to be created and administered by the USDA.
The primary reason for such strong opposition to GMO labels is concern that consumers will be unfairly influenced into avoiding such products out of fear – fear that is stoked from the implication that if such labels are necessary to point out genetic modification, then those foods must be unsafe for consumption.
Senator Pat Roberts, on this very issue:
“What we face today is a handful of states that have chosen to enact labeling requirements on information that has nothing to do with health, safety or nutrition. Unfortunately, the impact of these decisions will be felt all across the country.”
This bill required a 60-vote majority in order to advance to the next stage. Congress is clearly divided on this issue, as evidenced by a competing bill from Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) which would create a national mandatory label.
Many believe this debate in Congress is far from resolved, however. Given that labeling opponents have science on their side – major scientific bodies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association have all reinforced the fact that genetically modified foods are safe to eat – they will not soon relent on something that will have major consequences on food producers and consumers.