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Background: On March 16, 2016, the U.S. Senate with wide bi-partisan support rejected a legislative proposal introduced by Sen. Roberts (R-KS), Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, to establish a national labeling standard for genetically engineered (GE) products and ingredients that would also preempt any and all state and local initiatives requiring that labeling. The proposal did very little to change the existing voluntary labeling system and its primary purpose was to derail a Vermont mandatory labeling law set to take effect on July 1, 2016. The overwhelming vote to reject the Roberts’ Bill was largely the result of an appeal by millions of consumers nationwide demanding the “right to know” what’s in the food they feed to their families.
Having spent hundreds of millions to defeat the state and local mandatory GE labeling initiatives, the biotechnology and grocery manufacturer lobbies together with the agriculture establishment redoubled their efforts to preempt the Vermont law. Recently a compromise was reached between Sen. Roberts and Sen. Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, to establish a national GE labeling standard that would allow food companies to use scannable codes (i.e. QR codes) to label GE products and ingredients instead of the mandatory, on-package labels demanded by consumers. The legislation, with the support of the biotechnology, agriculture and grocery manufacturers, cleared the first hurdle to passage in approving a cloture motion by a vote of 65-32.
Statement: The following statement is made by Bill Wenzel, U.S. PIRG Agriculture Program Director:
“We are deeply disappointed in the vote yesterday in the Senate that sacrifices Vermont’s mandatory, on-package GE labeling law in favor of QR codes that will leave many elderly, poor and rural residents who lack smart phones and connectivity from information that allow informed decision-making about the ingredients in the food they eat and feed their families. The vote disregarded the voices of millions of consumers who made it clear that QR codes were unacceptable in favor of the special interests that dominate the debate on important national food and farm policy issues. The vote also disregards the warnings from the Food and Drug Administration that the proposed legislation is flawed and could result in its applicability to far fewer GE products and ingredients than the proponents contend. We call on all Senators to re-evaluate their positions and vote “no” on final passage.”
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