NEW life has been breathed into the national debate on genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling, but many wonder what legislation could include.
For months, Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) has been considered as a potential Senate sponsor for the House's legislative response to a national GMO labeling standard. No Democrat co-sponsor has surfaced for the House bill.
During an Oct. 21 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) voiced support for finding a bipartisan legislative solution before the end of the year — a strong indication that the Senate may try to move its own bill.
Unless Congress acts this fall, Vermont is set to become the first state in the country to institute its own mandatory GMO labeling law next July, and other states have passed or are considering their own labeling mandates.
Stabenow said biotechnology has been proved to be safe and beneficial and will play a major role in helping solve the dual challenges of climate change and global food security, but she also recognizes the growing desire of American consumers to know more about their food.
She said she plans to work on a bill that offers a solution to the problem of a 50-state patchwork of regulations, a national system of disclosure and transparency for consumers who wish to know more about their food and an approach that does not stigmatize biotechnology.
Agricultural groups support passing a national bill before Vermont's bill goes into effect. The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. said it was pleased to hear of the commitment by Stabenow, Hoeven and Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) to pass a bill by the end of the year and hopes to work with the lawmakers to get a bill adopted and signed into law.
The group has led the fight to challenge Vermont's labeling law in the court process but said a full resolution could take years and won't be concluded prior to Vermont's law going into effect in eight months.
John Linder, trade policy and biotechnology action team chair for the National Corn Growers Assn., said, "Congress — and only Congress — can now prevent a costly and confusing patchwork of state labeling laws from taking effect next year. The Senate must act now to avoid the negative consequences inaction will surely bring for consumers and farmers across the country."
Randy Gordon, president of the National Grain & Feed Assn., said the group believes a national legislative fix can be done in a way "that supports the rights of buyers and consumers to exercise choice and preferences when purchasing agricultural commodities and products while supporting all safe agricultural cropping systems."