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U.S. Senate Backs Bill to Label Genetically Modified Foods

  • FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2014 file photo, a grocery store employee wipes down a soup bar with a display informing customers of organic, GMO-free oils, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File) Brennan Linsley

  • FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2012, file photo. products labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) are sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File) Damian Dovarganes

Published: 7/8/2016 12:11:14 AM
Modified: 7/8/2016 12:16:32 AM

Washington — Food packages nationwide would for the first time be required to carry labels listing genetically modified ingredients under legislation the Senate backed on Thursday.

The vote was 63-30 for the bipartisan measure, which would compel foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, to carry a text label, a symbol or an electronic code readable by smartphone. Advocates for labeling and the food industry, which has fought mandatory labeling, have wanted to find a national solution to avoid a state-by-state patchwork of laws.

The food industry supports the Senate bill, but many labeling proponents do not. Critics say the labels should be easily readable by consumers without smartphones, and have complained that the measure lacks penalties for companies that don’t comply.

The measure now heads to the House, where its fate is less certain. That chamber has voted to make labeling voluntary.

If the federal law is enacted, the pre-emption will go into effect immediately and Vermont’s mandatory labeling statute will be rendered moot, according to VtDigger.

Senate approval came over the strong objections of Vermont’s senators — presidential contender Bernie Sanders and Democrat Patrick Leahy. They argued that the measure falls short, especially compared to tougher labeling requirements in their state that kicked in last Friday.

They said the federal government shouldn’t run roughshod over a state’s rules, pre-empting Vermont’s law, and the federal requirements would not be consumer-friendly.

Sanders called Vermont’s law “a triumph for consumers” that was shaping up as a hollow victory, with the Senate bill trumping his state’s law.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said a federal statute would save consumers money and avoid imposing Vermont’s law on other states, or a grab bag of state laws.

“What about California? What about my state of North Carolina, all the other ones?” Tillis asked.

The food industry says 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients — most of those corn and soy-based. The Food and Drug Administration says they are safe to eat.

The Agriculture Department would have two years to write the rules.

The legislation encompasses some foods that were exempted from the Vermont law, but it also allows the Agriculture Department to determine how much of a “bioengineered substance” must be present to require a GMO label.

Labeling advocates say many foods wouldn’t be labeled if the department sets a high threshold.

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