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Vermont Advocates Respond To U.S. Senate Vote On GMO Bill

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Vermont Right to Know Coalition

A bill in the U.S. Senate that would prevent Vermont’s GMO labeling bill from taking effect was blocked from advancing today.  But supporters and opponents believe it’s a momentary pause in the battle.
The Senate vote to advance the genetically modified food labeling bill needed 60 votes, but failed, as called by the Secretary of the Senate.  “On this vote the yea’s are 48, the nay’s are 49.  Three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to.”  “Madame President?”  “The Majority Leader.”  “I enter a motion to reconsider the vote.”  “The motion is entered.”

The Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Bill, sponsored by Republican Kansas Senator Pat Roberts — the Agriculture Committee Chair —   would require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered foods.  It would also bar any state from establishing GMO labeling laws.

Vermont Act 120 is set to go into effect on July 1st.  It mandates labeling any food in Vermont that contains GMOs.  But it faces legal challenges and could be derailed if federal legislation such as the Roberts bill passes.

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falco Schilling watched as the vote progressed. He characterizes the bill as corporate public interests being put ahead of the public.   “Hopefully this is an indication that Congress won’t preempt Vermont’s law in the absence of a strong, federal mandatory labeling standard. Vermont spent more than three years looking at this issue and produced a strong law that so far has been upheld by the courts. In contrast, Senator Roberts’ bill was put onto the floor today without any committee discussion.  I think that’s just kind of an example of corporations trying to minimize the debate and keep consumers in the dark.”

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Public Policy Manager Dan Barlow is excited that the bill was blocked, but cautions GMO labeling advocates.   “This is a temporary victory right now.  We expect there to be another vote soon and we’re going to have eagle eyes on this to make sure Vermont’s GMO labeling law remains whole.”

Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander says it’s a big relief to have GMO labeling make it over another hurdle, but she also expects Congress to again try to derail implementation of Vermont’s law.   “The other big thing that we’re all waiting for is a decision from the federal appeals court on the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s appeal which would have stopped Vermont’s law from going into effect until the court case was concluded.”  

The Grocery Manufacturers Association supports the Senate bill.   Spokesman Roger Lowe would not go on tape, but emailed WAMC a statement from the group’s president that says in part: “Despite today’s vote, there continues to be a strong bipartisan consensus to protect American consumers from the increased food costs and confusion of a 50-state patchwork of labeling laws.”   

The House passed similar legislation, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, in July 2015.  
Campbell’s Soup and Cheerios recently announced that they will voluntarily label their products for GMOs.

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