This week, U.S. Senate lawmakers reached an agreement regarding how foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be labeled. The deal comes just one week before Vermont’s precedent-setting GMO labeling laws go into effect on July 1.

Negotiations took place for weeks between members of the House Committee on Agriculture, primarily Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The plan is to establish one nationwide, mandatory label for food products that contain GMOs. If it goes into effect, the law will not apply to meats, foods derived from livestock, or foods where meat, poultry or eggs are the main ingredient--even if they do contain GMOs.

“This bipartisan bill is a win for consumers and families,” said Stabenow, top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. “For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.”

If this agreement moves forward, Vermont and other states would not be permitted to place their own customized labels on food products. For example, Vermont’s labeling law requires food products to display either “produced with” or “partially produced with” GMOs. But that would not be the case with the Senate’s new agreement, and this would be a win for the food industry who has insisted that varying state labels would be too confusing and too expensive. The agreement might also be a win for consumers because the cost of state-mandated labeling would have been passed on to them.

Food companies will have three options should the Senate’s bill come to fruition:

  • Option 1: Disclose GMO ingredients directly on the package using words.
  • Option 2: Use a symbol that will be created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Option 3: Use an electronic options, such as a scannable QR code. This must link to a clear, prominent message that discloses details about the product’s GMO ingredients. USDA would have 1 year from the day the law is passed to figure out any technological challenges that consumers might face in trying to electronically access GMO information.

Websites and phone numbers would provide access to disclosure details and other fine print that must legally be available to consumers.

Advocates of GMO-labeling, however, are not pleased with the Senate's new idea, which they do not believe is completely transparent in terms of revealing to consumers what is really in their food.

A final vote is expected as early as next week, but additional planning will continue into the summer. The U.S. House of Representatives--which did approve a very different GMO labeling bill last year--would also need to approve this one introduced by the Senate. The agreement would allow the Agriculture Department 2 years to complete the labeling regulations.

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