Senate to vote on bill blocking mandatory GMO labeling laws

The Senate is expected to take a procedural vote Wednesday on a controversial bill to block states from issuing mandatory labeling laws for foods with genetically modified organisms.

The bill from Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsMeet the rising GOP star who already enrages the left Senators ask IRS to issue guidance to help startups GOP makes new push on wildfire bills MORE (R-Kan.) would replace state-by-state laws for GMO foods with a voluntary national standard. Supporters say a patchwork of laws would make it expensive for companies to comply and drive up food prices.

But the bill is sparking fierce pushback from consumer groups and Democrats, who say the public should have more information about the foods they are eating.

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Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, in an open letter to senators on Tuesday said the bill just duplicates voluntary labeling standards already in place, while blocking states from action.

The group said there was no need to create a voluntary disclosure program under the Agriculture Department, claiming that the Food and Drug Administration has been encouraging voluntary labeling for 15 years.

"Americans have repeatedly made it clear that they want mandatory GMO labeling, with about 90% in support. Vermont's GMO labeling law was a direct response to this consumer call,” Jean Halloran, Consumer Union’s director of food policy initiatives, said in a statement about one of the state laws.

“But this bill, being pushed through Congress by biotech and food industry giants, would strip away the right to know and deny consumers across the country the information about their food that they want and deserve.”

Opponents say Robert’s bill is a new version of the industry-backed Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act that passed the House in July.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyEmphasis on diversity in Democratic convention lineup Clinton VP pick could face liberal ire NBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law MORE (D-Ore.) has offered a rival labeling bill that would allow manufacturers to choose one of four ways to label GMOs.

They could choose to put the words “genetically engineered” in parentheses next to a relevant ingredient; identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation for the asterisk at the bottom of the ingredients list; apply a catch-all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering” ingredients; or use a symbol on the label, designed by the Agriculture Secretary, to disclosure the presence of GMOs.