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article imageSenate passes bill to create federal label standard for GMO foods

By Karen Graham     Jul 8, 2016 in Food
The U.S. Senate approved legislation late Thursday night that would for the first time create a national labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients.
Senate Bill 764, which passed by a vote of 63-30 directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a national labeling standard within two years.
The late night vote wore out the procedural clock, effectively blocking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from scheduling a vote on the legislation earlier in the day. But the delay didn't stop the bill from passing. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where passage is less certain.
According to the bill, the USDA has two years to come up with either a text label or an electronic code readable by smartphones so that consumers can tell if the food product contains genetically engineered ingredients. It will be up to the USDA to decide which ingredients are considered GMOs.
SB 764 was sponsored by Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. The bill has drawn accolades from farmers, consumers, and advocates in the food industry because it would override GMO labeling laws enacted by individual states, such as Vermont's labeling law, which by the way, is more stringent.
"This bipartisan bill ensures that consumers and families throughout the United States will have access, for the first time ever, to information about their food through a mandatory, nationwide label for food products with GMOs," Stabenow said in a statement, reports Reuters.
Loopholes in SB 764
On June 27, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised some concerns in a memo over the USDA being allowed to make the determination as to what constitutes GMO ingredients in food. One particular point the FDA made was that some GMO corn may be excluded because of "ambiguous" language.
Some ingredients, such as beet sugar and soybean oil, can be derived from GMO crops, but after refining, there is little or no genetic material left. Critics also point out that labels should be easily readable by all consumers, and not just people who have smartphones.
A big concern with the bill is that there is no mention of any penalties if a food company does not comply with the law. A law with no penalties for non-compliance and the possibility of only using electronic codes may cause some problems with its passage in the House, where most Representatives are already in favor of a voluntary labeling standard.
More about GMO labeling bill, bipartisan agreement, national standard, Food industry, vermont law
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