GMO labeling bill advances in the Senate over Dem objections

GMO labeling bill advances in the Senate over Dem objections
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A bill to block states from issuing mandatory labeling laws for products that contain genetically modified ingredients overcame a major hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday.

Supporters have hailed the legislation, which advanced 65-32, as a bipartisan compromise in the national fight over the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms, better known as GMOs.

The bill allows food producers to use QR codes that consumers scan with a smartphone to find out if a product contains GMOs instead of stating on the label that the product was “produced with genetic engineering” — required by laws passed in states such as Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Alaska.

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Democrats slammed the agreement as an industry-backed bill to deny Americans the right to now what’s in their food. 

"Here is a so-called labeling bill, but in fact it does the opposite," said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act Democrats call on White House to explore sharing Moderna technology abroad Lawmakers introduce bill to limit data collection at border crossings MORE (D-Ore.). "This so-called mandatory labeling bill isn't mandatory, doesn't label, and it excludes most GMO foods."

During the vote, members of the Organic Consumers Association threw money from the Senate gallery in protest.

The protesters yelled "Monsanto Money" and "Sen. Stabenow, listen to the people, not Monsanto" while $2,000 fell to the floor.

Under the legislation — which defines bioengineering as food “that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques; and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature” — Democrats claim a number of GMO foods are excluded.

“That definition means that corn oil derived from Monsanto GMO corn isn’t GMO for purposes of this bill; it means that soy bean oil derived from Monsanto GMO soy crop is not GMO for purposes of this bill; it means that sugar derived from Monsanto GMO sugar beats is not GMO for purposes of this bill — thus the main GMO crops in America are not GMO magically through the definition utilized in this bill,” Merkely said.

In technical comments, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took issue with the definition for the same reason, but supporters claim that very agency found no proof that GMOs are dangerous.

"I find it ironic that those who challenge this science have latched on to comments from the FDA, an agency who has found no scientific evidence that biotechnology threatens human safety as some type of credibility," Stabenow said, warning that opponents would be “denying the overwhelming body of science" on biotechnology if they voted against the bill.

In a statement to The Hill, Monsanto called the bill a bipartisan solution to GMO labeling and claimed it has the support of more than 1,000 food, agriculture and business organizations and companies.

“The overwhelming majority of food and agriculture is voicing support for this bill with the members of the U.S. Senate,” Charla Lord, the company’s spokeswoman, said.

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During a debate on the floor, Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call Bob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Kan.) warned that food producers would be stuck trying to navigate a patchwork of different state laws if the legislation failed.

"If we don't act today, what we face is a handful of states that have chosen to enact labeling requirements on information that has nothing to do with health, with safety, or nutrition," he said. "Those labeling laws will ultimately impact consumers who will suffer from much higher priced food." 

But opponents say it’s the obstacle course created by the QR codes allowed under the bill that will hurt consumers.

“That obstacle course means you have to have a smartphone, you have to have to be able to scan this code, you have to have a digital plan that you’re paying information for, you have to have wireless in the store and you have to take a lot of time to go to a website to find out the answer,” Merkley said.

Critics also argue that the bill lacks any language that would allow the Agriculture Department to enforce the labeling law it’s been directed to create while blocking states from taking any action of their own.

“The Roberts-Stabenow bill will pre-empt the strong GMO labeling that went into effect in Vermont a few days ago on July 1 and also undermine the efforts of other states to label GMOs,” Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks Sanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan MORE (I-Vt.) said. “The timing of this legislation is no accident. What its goal is, is to overturn, rescind the very significant legislation that passed in the state of Vermont.”

The Democrats who voted in support of the bill included Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE (Wis.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities Biden signs bill to help victims of 'Havana syndrome' Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district MORE (Colo.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperIs the Biden administration afraid of trade? Congress sends 30-day highway funding patch to Biden after infrastructure stalls Senate to try to pass 30-day highway bill Saturday after GOP objection MORE (Del.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats struggle to gain steam on Biden spending plan Building back better by investing in workers and communities Barletta holds wide lead over GOP rivals in early poll of Pennsylvania governor race MORE (Pa.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Who is afraid of the EU's carbon border adjustment plan? MORE (Del.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Ind.),  Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinJane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council on Mental Wellbeing — Merck asks FDA to authorize five-day COVID-19 treatment Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE (Calif.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' Andrew Cuomo and the death of shame MORE (Minn.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFill the Eastern District of Virginia  Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (Va.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOn The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves MORE (Minn.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks Climate activists target Manchin Hoyer signals House vote on bill to 'remove' debt limit threat MORE (W.V.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect MORE (Mo.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates Advocates frustrated by shrinking legal migration under Biden Rand Paul blocks quick vote on House-passed B Iron Dome funding MORE (N.J.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Lawmakers call for more resources to support early cancer detection MORE (N.H.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Democrats dial down the Manchin tension Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (Mich.) and Mark Warner (Va.).

Updated at 7:43 p.m.