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National Biotech Labeling Standards Rejected by Senate Democrats

Mar 16, 2016

A compromise bill that would create a national system for labeling products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as opposed to state by state rules, was rejected by all but three Democrats in the Senate today. The revised bill, sponsored by Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, would have immediately preempted state labeling requirements and put into place a national standard for voluntary GMO labeling. It also would have required mandatory disclosure of GMO ingredients if such information was not readily available in the marketplace two years after enactment. Under the bill, the Secretary of Agriculture would have the authority to define the parameters of the new national program, including enforcement of biotechnology disclosure requirements in the bill.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking minority member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, opposed the compromise Roberts bill, stating on the Senate floor that it reflects the “status quo.”

However, Stabenow declined to offer any amendments to make the bill more acceptable to her or other Senate Democrats. The Administration did not issue a formal statement in support or opposition to the Roberts bill, but earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refused to require GMO labeling because there are no safety or material differences in foods that are derived using these technologies. Only three states have mandatory GMO labeling laws, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, which all have differing requirements. Four states have considered such requirements via public referendum, and in all cases, the voters voted against mandatory disclosure.

In order for the Roberts bill to proceed through the Senate without a filibuster, 60 votes were needed. The final vote of 48-49 included a no vote by Majority Leader McConnell to protect his right to have the vote reconsidered at a later date. Senators Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Thomas Carper (DE) were the only three Senate Democrats who voted for the bill. Six Republicans voted against the legislation: Senators Susan Collins (ME), Dean Heller (NV), Mike Lee (UT), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rand Paul (KY) and Dan Sullivan (AK).

During the Senate consideration of the bill, Senator Donnelly proposed an amendment that was not voted on, but which is similar to the compromise language Chairman Roberts included in his revised bill. The Donnelly amendment would require 100 percent of food companies to provide information about GMO ingredients to consumers, but only if 80 percent of the food industry does not provide clear and direct access to such information within three years after enactment.

The Roberts bill that was rejected today contained a similar provision, but with a 70 percent voluntary threshold that the food industry must meet before mandatory disclosure rules would take effect. Senator Donnelly’s amendment would also require companies to provide information over an 800 number, in addition to electronic disclosure.

The Senate will be out of session for two weeks starting next week. It is unclear when or if another attempt will be made to consider the Roberts bill, the Donnelly amendment, or another compromise federal preemption bill.

For more information about IDFA’s efforts on GMO legislation, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at

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