Congress Passes Tepid GMO Labeling Law

     (CN) — Consumers seeking to find out whether various foods contain genetically modified ingredients may finally get their wish, although Congress stopped short of making it easy: obtaining the information will require a smartphone or the time to call the products’ producers.
     Congress passed legislation Thursday to require most food packages to have an electronic code, text label or a symbol that indicates whether the food contains genetically modified ingredients, commonly known as GMOs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will have two years to write the rules.
     President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill, which passed in the House 306-117 on Thursday.
     Federal lawmakers were forced to address GMO labeling after Vermont passed a bill in 2014 requiring labels for any foods containing genetically modified ingredients. The bill took effect earlier this month.
     The federal GMO labeling bill sparked controversy among groups that support mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs, with some taking issue with the concessions made to each side.
     The Organic Consumers Association, a food advocacy group based in Finland, Minnesota, released a statement following the passage of the Roberts-Stabenow bill, named after Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Pat Roberts, R-Kansas. The group’s statement reiterated several issues that advocates had brought up in the months preceding the proposed law’s passage.
     “Today, Congress trampled on consumer and states’ rights, choosing instead to serve the interests of Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association,” Ronnie Cummins, the international director of the association, said. “This bill was written, bought and paid for by corporations who clearly have something to hide.”
     Cummins also noted that the bill will place a burden on the elderly, the poor and other individuals who do not have smartphones or internet access.
     Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the association, and Adam Eidinger, founder of Occupy Monsanto, dropped more than $2,000 in dollar bills onto the Senate floor on July 6 to highlight the influence of large corporations on the bill’s wording and potential impact.
     “When Congress moves to crush the will of 9 out of 10 Americans because they need companies like Monsanto to fund their campaigns, you know our democracy is in real trouble,” the pair said in a statement released before the incident. “The corporate lobbyists are totally corrupt.”
     In addition to Vermont, Connecticut and Maine have also passed laws that require foods containing GMOs to be labeled. Connecticut’s bill takes effect once five states with a combined population exceeding 20 million pass similar bills.
     “We call on President Obama, who issued an executive order advising Congress not to preempt state laws, to veto this bill, which in addition to preempting Vermont, Maine and Connecticut GMO labeling laws also preempts more than 100 other state laws,” the association said in its statement.
     Representatives from Vermont voiced objections to the Roberts-Stabenow bill, including Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democrat Patrick Leahy, as well as Rep. Peter Welch, also a Democrat. Welch pointed out that the bill is less strict than Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which requires foods containing genetic materials to feature a label stating that they were “produced with genetic engineering.”
     “If there is an acknowledgment about the right of a consumer to have access to information, why not give them the information in plain and simple English?” Welch asked Thursday on the House floor.
     Opponents of mandatory labeling have pursued a national solution to avoid laws that vary by state. The food industry generally supports the legislation, though some opponents of labeling pointing out the compromises that affect how the bill will ultimately impact farmers and manufacturers.
     “I don’t think that it’s the best bill that we could have, but it’s the best bill we could pass,” Richard Wilkins, a Delaware farmer and president of the American Soybean Association, told NPR.
     While many labeling advocates acknowledge that there is debate over the risks that GMOs pose at this point, they also argue that not enough is currently known and that people have a right to know what they’re consuming.
     Republicans and lawmakers from rural states overwhelming supported the legislation in hopes that it will help local farmers who produce genetically modified soybeans and corn.
     “The clock has run out, my producers need certainty and an interstate commerce nightmare will shortly ensue if we don’t pass this bill,” Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, said.
     The food industry says that 75 to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients — primarily corn- and soy-based products. The Food and Drug Administration says GMOs are safe to consume.
     GMOs are animals or plants that have had gene copies from other plants or animals inserted into their DNA. Traditional farming has used selective breeding of plants for centuries, but genetically modified foods are manipulated in a lab to speed up the process of transferring a gene from one animal or plant to another.
     Some GMOs can be engineered to be resistant to herbicides, leading to land that can’t be farmed and GMO seeds that poison or cross-breed with non-GMO seeds in several nations around the world.

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