GOP senator unveils bill to block state GMO label laws

Greg Nash

Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsOvernight Regulation: FDA raises concerns over GMO labeling bill FDA concerned with GMO labeling 'compromise' Senators press Obama education chief on reforms MORE (R-Kan.) has unveiled legislation to pre-empt states from issuing their own mandatory labeling laws for foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

The draft bill, which the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee will markup Thursday, requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered, or GMO, foods.

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In a statement, Roberts, who serves as the committee chair, said his legislation is a framework to help find a solution to a patchwork of labeling laws.

“I will continue to work with members of the Agriculture Committee on potential amendments. However, we are out of time,” he said. “The time to act is now. Negotiations will continue in an effort to reach committee agreement.”

The legislation is similar to the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 that passed the House in June, outraging consumer groups lobbying for mandatory labeling laws.

"This bill is a desperate attempt by the junk food and chemical industries to keep Americans in the dark about what we feed our families,” said Lisa Archer, Friends of the Earth Food and Technology program director, in a statement about the Senate bill. “93 percent of Americans want GMO labeling and this effort to try and stop the consumer demand for transparency that has shaken Big Food to its core will ultimately fail. 

Any member of Congress that chooses to support Roberts’ bill, she said, will find they are on the wrong side of history.

Proponents of the House bill, however, praised Roberts for introducing similar legislation on the Senate side.

“We are very pleased that Chairman Roberts has scheduled a markup on legislation that meets an urgent need to avoid the inevitable chaos the food industry faces if left without a federal government-created standard definition that eliminates multiple state approaches,” Jennifer Hatcher, a spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), said in a statement. “Without immediate action, costs in the supply chain will escalate rapidly and once the resources are expended, consumer costs will inevitably rise.”