The "compromise" food-labeling bill announced Thursday by leaders of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee is nothing less than a "rollback of democracy at the behest of the world's largest agribusiness and biotech corporations," said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter.
The legislation in question would create the first mandatory, nationwide labeling standard for food products containing genetically modified organisms that are commonly referred to as GMOs.
Unlike Vermont's GMO-labeling law, which would require items to be clearly marked "produced with genetic engineering," the compromise bill would allow food companies to use a text label, a symbol, or electronic "QR codes" accessed by smartphone—a system "that will send shoppers on a wild scavenger hunt to figure out what GMOs might be in their food," wrote Jo Miles of Food & Water Watch on Friday.
It would supersede Vermont's law and prohibit states from setting their own labeling requirements; exempt foods that have meat, poultry, and egg products as main ingredients; and include no federal penalties for violations of the labeling requirements.
While the Senate in March rejected a similarly controversial bill known colloquially as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, GMO-labeling proponents say the legislation proposed Thursday is just more of the same.
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The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) was just one of several groups to issue a blistering response to the news.
"The anti-consumer bill unveiled by [Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.] and [Pat Roberts, R-Kansas], bought and paid for by Big Food corporations, nullifies Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law, and replaces it with a law that replaces the requirement for clear, on package labels, with a convoluted, inconvenient and discriminatory scheme involving barcodes and 1-800 numbers," said Ronnie Cummins, international director of OCA.
"This is not a labeling bill; it is a non-labeling bill," added Center for Food Safety executive director Andrew Kimbrell. "This kind of labeling system is inadequate and inherently discriminatory against one third of Americans who do not own smartphones, and even more so against rural, low income, and elderly populations or those without access to the internet."
According to the Associated Press, Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) office "said he will place a hold on the legislation, which will require at least 60 votes in the 100-member body to overcome."
Sanders said in a statement: "I am very proud that Vermont has led the country in GMO labeling. This bill would preempt what Vermont and other states have done. GMO labeling exists in dozens of countries around the world. It is not controversial. Already major food companies in our country have begun labeling their products. People have a right to know what is in the food they eat. I am going to do everything I can to defeat this legislation."