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State Mandated Labeling Laws Require In-Depth Thought

March 14, 2016
Agriculture Blog Post

Originally published by Michigan Farm News on March 14, 2016; republished with permission.

On July 23, 2015, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act in an effort to protect consumers and facilitate informed decision making.

Now, a coalition of agricultural interests are calling on the Senate to support the same federal policy framework.

On March 1, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee approved legislation that would create a uniform nationwide voluntary program for labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and would prevent states from requiring food labels to note the presence of GMOs.

However, the current version of the legislation is creating divisive opinions among committee members, consumer advocates and the food industry as a whole.

As the language now stands, as written by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, there would be a voluntary labelling process in place; the "National Voluntary Bioengineered Food Labelling Standard."

The law would allow the USDA to establish requirements and procedures for carrying out the law, as well as mandating an outreach and education program on the safety of GMOs. 

Should the legislation fail, there would be a "patchwork" system under which each state would be responsible for its own labeling standards; a solution that many call potentially confusing and expensive for the food industry.

Food industry groups believe that complying with different labelling regulations in each state would unduly burden their ability to conduct business in multiple states. Vermont's GMO labelling laws are currently scheduled to go into effect on July 1 of this year, so Chairman Roberts and other proponents want to move quickly on getting a national system in place before this deadline.

Among the legislation's critics is Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow. She believes that the voluntary labelling laws would not go far enough to "meet consumer demand" and therefore she is not currently offering her support.

Stabenow was instrumental in passing the 2014 Farm Bill which authorized nutrition and agricultural programs through 2018, and vows to stay committed to the GMO labelling issue through its conclusion. Stakeholders are expecting new developments in late March.

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