The U.S. Senate has approved a controversial bill which would create a federal standard for labeling foods that contain genetically engineered or modified ingredients.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved the “Agriculture Biotechnology Solution” bill which will require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled with words, pictures, or a QR code that must be scanned by a smartphone. The Senate voted 63 to 30 to approve the bill after a controversial cloture vote on Wednesday. The bill will now head to the House of Representatives for a vote. If approved in the House the bill would go on to President Obama to be signed into law.
“Food ingredients like beet sugar and soybean oil, which can be derived from genetically-engineered crops but contain next to no genetic material by the time they are processed, may not fall under the law’s definition of a bioengineered food, critics say,” Reuters reported.
Other critics of the bill say that GMO corn may also be excluded from the bill. This means that beet sugar, soy, and corn (the crops which are among the most genetically modified in the world) might not be covered under the current language of the bill.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised concerns about the involvement of the USDA in a list of worries sent in a June 27 memo to the Senate Agriculture Committee,” Reutersnoted.
Thursday’s vote came after a contentious vote on Wednesday which invoked cloture, a rule that prevents attempts to delay or filibuster a bill. The U.S. Senate voted 65 to 32 in favor of cloture, forcing an up-or-down vote to take place within 30 hours.
During the cloture vote members of the Organic Consumers Association protested the vote by throwing money from the Senate gallery onto the floor. The Hill reported that protesters yelled “Monsanto Money” and “Sen. Stabenow, listen to the people, not Monsanto” while $2,000 fell to the floor.
U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow previously called the bill “an important path forward that represents a true compromise. Since time is of the essence, we urge our colleagues to move swiftly to support this bill.” Roberts said if his colleagues do not act on the bill now Vermont’s law will causeconfusion in the marketplace. The bill would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture two years to write the labeling rules.
The bipartisan bill would immediately prohibit states and cities from passing labeling laws for genetically modified or engineered ingredients. Genetically modified or engineered seeds are engineered to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides. The majority of the United States’ corn and soybean crops are now GE, including a large portion that is used for animal feed.
The bill would also put the USDA in charge of establishing “a uniform national disclosure standard for human food that is or may be bioengineered.” Critics of a federal standard worry about the USDA being pressured by biotechnology companies that have a close relationship to U.S. regulatory agencies. The proposal would also require companies producing foods with GE ingredients to post a label, including text on package, a symbol, or a link to a website (QR code or similar technology). Smaller food manufacturers can use websites or telephone numbers to disclose ingredients.
In late February, Roberts introduced another bill which attempted to create a federal voluntary standard for labeling GE food. Roberts’ Senate Bill 2609, or the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act, would have blocked mandatory labeling efforts by states. In March, the bill failed to reach the 60 votes needed during a procedural vote, with 49 votes in favor and 48 votes against.
Roberts’ bill was similar to the controversial Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which passed the House in June 2015 but ultimately failed amid heavy opposition. To critics, the bill was known as the “DARK” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act because the law was also aimed at nullifying GMO labeling measures, such as the bill passed in Vermont.
The latest bipartisan effort contains language that is identical to both of the previous bills. The bill would “amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered foods.” It’s safe to say that this new bipartisan compromise is simply the latest version of the DARK Act and will likely live up to its name by keeping Americans in the dark regarding what is in their food.
When it comes to food policy, more and more Americans are questioning the influence of biotechnology giants like Monsanto. Recently, Common Dreams reported, in data revealed by OpenSecrets.org and the Organic Consumers Association, that Senators who had voted on a procedural vote in favor of the bill received more than twice as much in contributions from the agriculture lobby than those who voted “No” ($867,518 for the supporters vs. $350,877 for opponents).
Make no mistake, your food supply is under attack. The American government is in bed with Monsanto and dozens of other corporations that help create policy. This bill will pass the House and President Obama will sign it into law. The law will keep Americans in the dark about what is in their food while telling the public that a federal system is the best way forward.
So what are the solutions? Build locally. Get involved with your community and begin growing your own food. As simple as it may sound it is the strongest and most accessible solution for the majority of people.
Derrick is available for interviews. Please contact [email protected]
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