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 MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump, Biden renew push for Latino support Sunday shows - Trump team defends coronavirus response Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' 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.

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“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.

During a debate on the floor, Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill GOP senators say coronavirus deal dead until after election Trump says he'll sign USPS funding if Democrats make concessions 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 SandersNYT editorial board remembers Ginsburg: She 'will forever have two legacies' Two GOP governors urge Republicans to hold off on Supreme Court nominee Sanders knocks McConnell: He's going against Ginsburg's 'dying wishes' 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 BaldwinKeep teachers in the classroom Cher raised million for Biden campaign at LGBTQ-themed fundraiser Democrats seek balance in backing protests, condemning violence MORE (Wis.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (Colo.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrat asks for probe of EPA's use of politically appointed lawyers Overnight Energy: Study links coronavirus mortality to air pollution exposure | Low-income, minority households pay more for utilities: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push resolution to battle climate change, sluggish economy and racial injustice | Senators reach compromise on greenhouse gas amendment stalling energy bill | Trump courts Florida voters with offshore drilling moratorium MORE (Del.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GAO report finds brokers offered false info on coverage for pre-existing conditions Catholic group launches .7M campaign against Biden targeting swing-state voters MORE (Pa.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (Del.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Barrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick Ex-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden MORE (Ind.),  Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinMcConnell says Trump nominee to replace Ginsburg will get Senate vote Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence Intensifying natural disasters do little to move needle on climate efforts MORE (Calif.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGOP Senate candidate says Trump, Republicans will surprise in Minnesota Peterson faces fight of his career in deep-red Minnesota district Getting tight — the psychology of cancel culture MORE (Minn.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (N.D.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBarrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick Biden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Second GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus MORE (Va.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill EPA delivers win for ethanol industry angered by waivers to refiners It's time for newspapers to stop endorsing presidential candidates MORE (Minn.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Gardner on court vacancy: Country needs to mourn Ginsburg 'before the politics begin' Barrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick MORE (W.V.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Democratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally MORE (Mo.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage MORE (N.J.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate Democrats introduce bill to sanction Russians over Taliban bounties Trump-backed candidate wins NH GOP Senate primary to take on Shaheen Democratic senator urges Trump to respond to Russian aggression MORE (N.H.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump rollbacks could add 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over 15 years: analysis | Intensifying natural disasters do little to move needle on climate efforts | Experts warn wildfire smoke could worsen COVID-19 GAO report finds brokers offered false info on coverage for pre-existing conditions Democrats back away from quick reversal of Trump tax cuts MORE (Mich.) and Mark Warner (Va.).

Updated at 7:43 p.m.