A Vermont food labeling mandate that goes into effect July 1 threatens to wreck havoc on our nation’s food supply system and hurt consumers, food companies and farmers, and the U.S. Senate needs to act quickly to stop it.

The Biotech Labeling Solutions Act, which was passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee in a bipartisan 14-6 vote, creates a non-discriminatory national labeling standard for food made with genetically engineered ingredients.

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Finding a solution to the real problems of a patchwork of different state food labeling mandates has bipartisan support.  Three Democrats voted in the Agriculture Committee to send the bill to the Senate floor, and several others spoke of the urgent need for a national solution that blocks the state laws and sets a uniform food labeling standard regardless of where people live or shop. Both Democrats and Republicans committed to working to find a compromise bill that sets this national standard and strengthens disclosure of ingredient information for consumers that can pass the Senate with broad bipartisan support. 

The clock is ticking, and the Senate needs to act on this issue. With the Vermont labeling law going into effect in a few short months, farmers and food producers will soon be forced to alter their production techniques, supply chains and distribution networks.  And consumers pay the price of inaction, as a recent economic study found that the costs associated with the Vermont law could be as high as $1,050 per family – a burden many families simply can’t bear.

As the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act heads to the Senate, Chairman Pat RobertsPat RobertsOvernight Healthcare: McConnell warns Senate not to block repeal debate | Insurers knock Cruz proposal | WH tries to discredit CBO | Lawmakers propose .1B NIH funding boost Trump: I’ll be ‘very angry’ if Senate doesn’t pass ObamaCare repeal bill Trump: Putin preferred Clinton in the White House MORE (R-Kan.) has made clear that he is willing to work with his fellow senators on both sides of the aisle to strengthen the bill. Senators should work diligently and quickly to protect American families from higher food bills and increased food labeling uncertainty.

It is vitally important that in their efforts to provide consumers with more information about genetically engineered ingredients in food, Congress avoids actions that would stigmatize biotechnology, which has been proven safe by the scientific community and is integral to modern farming.  A mandatory on-pack label would mislead consumers and lead them to think GMOs are something that should be avoided.  A number of anti-GMO activists have openly admitted that they will use an on-package label to organize consumers against the technology.

Make no mistake, the consequences of demonizing safe genetically engineered crops and ingredients would be significant. Farmers would be forced to abandon an advancement that increases productivity while decreasing the use of pesticides and emissions of greenhouse gases.  Making a switch to non-GMO crops would cause food prices to soar. Biotechnology is a modern answer to modern problems, and this is not the time to turn back the clock.

There’s no question that consumers want more ingredient information about their food, and there are a growing number of ways for them to get access to it -- without stigmatizing a safe, beneficial tool farmers use everyday.

There is also a modern way to provide consumers with more information than ever before – and more than can ever fit on a package label.   SmartLabel™, for instance, is a new and innovative transparency initiative that puts detailed ingredient information right at the fingertips of consumers.  Shoppers can access the ingredient information on SmartLabel via websites, scanning a QR code with a smartphone, 1-800 number, and soon through an app. In addition, it is likely that customer service desks in local grocery stores can help shoppers as well. 

Support for finding a solution to Vermont’s and other food labeling mandates is broad and growing. The House of Representatives passed its version of a national labeling standard last summer, and with the bipartisan action in the Senate Agriculture Committee on March 1, the full Senate now has the chance to vote on it too.

Senators from both parties need to work fast to iron out a common-sense solution that preempts a range of different state laws and establishes a national labeling standard, while helping consumers get the information they want about ingredients.

Millions of Americans – farmers, businesses and families – are counting on them, and time is running out.

Conner is president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) and former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.