A bill to set a national standard for food labels has finally made it to the floor of the U.S. Senate. The bill passed a key procedural vote on Wednesday and is set for final passage, possibly on Thursday. The issue was food labels, but the debate was over biotechnology. A compromise bill on how food products that contain GMO ingredients should be labeled reached the senate floor after months of debate. Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts admitted the compromise is not perfect but will set a national standard for food labels, “From my point of view, it is not the best possible bill but the best bill possible give the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in.” The compromise was reached after lengthy back-and-forth debate between Roberts and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow.
The bill mandates that foods with GMO ingredients be labeled, but does so in a way that does not demonize the technology and assures consumers that GMOs are safe. It also gives the marketplace a wide variety of options when it comes to how the labels appear, either print, symbol, or barcode. Stabenow admits that, underlying debate on this bill and the reason it has been so hard to move forward, is that this is really a debate over the use of biotechnology in food production, “This was a proxy fight over weather biotechnology has a role in our food system and in agriculture as a whole.” And this is why this issue is far from being resolved. As an example, while the Senators were voting anti-GMO protestors caused a disturbance in the gallery and had to be evicted by security. Plenty of Democrats argued against the legislation saying it did not give consumers clear enough information about what is in the food supply. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid tried at the last minute to delay the vote claiming not enough debate had been held.
The bill advanced on a vote of 65 to 32 with both Indiana senators voting in favor. Final passage is expected by the Senate, but the bill must then be reconciled with a House version passed over a year ago that contains significant differences.