The industry's top trade groups raised a fierce outcry today following the U.S. Senate's failure to invoke cloture on a bill that would create a federal labeling standard for GMOs and foods made with genetically engineered ingredients.
The legislation was approved by the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this month, though today it secured only 48 of the 60 votes necessary to move to the Senate for review.
Noting his appreciation for Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts' efforts to implement the legislative solution, National Grocers Association President/CEO Peter J. Larkin said, "We believe that a uniform standard that pre-empts state labeling laws strikes the right legislative balance to provide consumers with access to information that is consistent and transparent.
"While we are disappointed that the Senate was unable to invoke cloture on this important bill, we will continue to look to a path forward for a solution," Larkin continued.
Roberts' proposal aims to pre-empt state GMO labeling laws – including a law in Vermont that would take effect in July -- and avoid the consumer confusion that many observers believe will occur as a result of a state-by-state approach.
"We have argued the urgency of the situation for many months, and as predicted, have already heard from companies that have had packaging that complies with the GMO labeling required by the state of Vermont rejected by other inconsistent state GMO labeling schemes," added Food Marketing Institute President/CEO Leslie G. Sarasin.
Noting her disappointment in the potential state patchwork system, Sarasin added, “The real loss is for our grocery customers who are accustomed to enjoying low prices and an abundant availability of products due to tremendous advances of U.S. agriculture and the historical standard in the U.S. that requirements for food labeling be consistent and limited to issues related to health and safety."
Leaders from the Snack Food Association are also "extremely disappointed that the Senate could not come together today to support a bipartisan solution that would have called for unprecedented disclosure of ingredient information to consumers and prevented a chaotic patchwork of state laws from taking effect," said CEO Tom Dempsey. "We view today's result as a major failure on behalf of our Congress to stand up and do the right thing for American food and agricultural business, as well as for consumers."
Small and midsized companies will be hit the hardest by the state-by-state approach to mandatory labeling if the Senate does not quickly reach a compromise," added Dempsey, noting that a solution must be found "to establish federal guidelines for GMO labeling that does not stigmatize a technology that has been proven safe and beneficial."
Industry observers on the other side of the issue, however, hailed the bill's strike-down as a win for consumers.
"Consumers have made their voices heard to their elected representatives in the Senate, and they said clearly, 'We want the right to know more about our food,'" said Scott Faber, SVP for government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, adding that "we remain hopeful that congressional leaders can craft a national mandatory compromise that works for consumers and the food industry."
Calling the bill "unworkable and confusing," Gary Hirshberg, chairman of advocacy group Just Label It and Stonyfield Farm, said: "Simply put, Sen. Roberts’ proposal didn’t deserve the support of the Senate.
"Consumers want a simple, nonjudgmental disclosure, and despite the exaggerations on both sides of this debate, there is zero actual evidence anywhere in the world that this would increase food costs or create supply chain disruptions, or even that consumers would view this as a warning," Hirshberg noted. "I am confident that once the Senate looks past the emotion at the real evidence, a simple and obvious solution can be achieved."