Senate panel advances bill blocking state GMO labeling rules

A Senate panel voted Tuesday to advance legislation that would block states from imposing labeling requirements for genetically modified foods.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the bill in a 14-6 vote vote, sending it to the upper chamber's floor. The House passed similar legislation last year.

"Now is not the time for Congress to make food more expensive for anyone,” said Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsGOP senators ask watchdog to examine Gitmo site surveys spending Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Congress set for Saudi showdown with Obama MORE (R-Kan.), who sponsored the bill.

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The bill comes amid a heated fight between consumer groups who want more information about so-called GMO foods and the food industry.

Supporters of the bill say that a patchwork of state rules will make it more costly for food companies to comply and that those costs will be passed on to consumers. They also say that additional labeling requirements are unnecessary for foods that have already been deemed safe by the government.

But Democrats who oppose the bill say consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they’re eating.

The GOP-backed bill would “move production methods into the shadows” and “give agriculture a black eye,” said Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild MORE (D-Vt.).

“The legislation undermines the public’s right to know,” he added.

The bill would replace state-by-state mandatory GMO labeling requirements with a voluntary national standard.

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowMichigan Dems highlight Flint with unanimous opposition to CR How Congress averted shutdown Senate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown MORE (Mich.) said it does not go far enough to protect consumers. 

“It must contain a pathway to a national system of mandatory disclosures for consumers,” she said. “The bill before us today does not meet that important requirement. A voluntary program is not enough to meet consumer demand. That’s why I will not be voting for it."