WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on March 1, by a 14 to 6 vote, approved a bill establishing a national voluntary bioengineered food labeling standard and preempting any state or local laws that would require the mandatory labeling of such foods.

“It is clear that what we’re facing today is not a safety or health issue. It is a market issue,” said Pat Roberts, U.S. Senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “This is really a conversation about a few states dictating to every state the way food moves from farmers to consumers in the value chain. We have a responsibility to ensure that the national market can work for everyone, including farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.”

Several committee members expressed the importance of advancing the bill promptly to the full Senate in view of the fact Vermont’s mandatory labeling bill takes effect July 1. Some committee members voted to advance the bill while stating their vote on the final legislation would be contingent on improvements that they said were required to address the concerns of citizens who want to know whether their food was manufactured by means of bioengineering.

The legislation has the support of more than 650 farmers, cooperatives, agribusinesses, processors, seed makers, handlers, food and feed manufacturers, lenders, and retailers.

“We find the forward momentum building behind this bill encouraging, and we urge the Senate to quickly pass this bill for the good of America’s farmers and consumers,” said Chip Bowling, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president. 
Vermont’s mandatory law requiring on-package labels of foods containing ingredients that have been genetically modified takes effect in July, and unless Congress acts swiftly, families, farmers and food companies will face chaos in the market and higher costs, NCGA said. Multiple studies have shown that the associated costs with Vermont’s GMO-labeling law and a subsequent patchwork of state laws will cost American families hundreds of dollars more in groceries each year – with low-income Americans being hit the hardest.

The U.S. House of Representatives last July passed legislation on this topic with a bipartisan vote of 275-150.

The Senate Agriculture Committee last October held a hearing on agriculture biotechnology with federal regulators and perspectives from producers and consumers – the first biotechnology hearing in 10 years. The hearing focused on science and the role of the regulatory system to help ensure a safe and affordable food supply for consumers at home and around the globe.

“Now, our attention turns to the full Senate, and we will begin our press on senators from both parties to support this legislation,” said Richard Wilkins, American Soybean Association president. “For soybean farmers, the bill represents our continued ability to use biotechnology within our operations. It means growing more while using less, and it means meeting the needs of a demanding American marketplace, and growing global population. We will communicate those benefits to senators every day until this bill is passed and signed into law.”