Mandatory GMO Labeling Nixed, But Voluntary GMO-Free Labels Optional

Mar 15, 2016

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill Wednesday that prevents individual states from requiring food to have GMO labeling. Currently only Vermont has such a law. It’s slated to go into effect in July.

"I think common sense tells you that we got to have one standard for all 50 states," says U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican. "Fifty different state laws with 50 different labeling requirements, would be practically impossible for any food processor." 

The bill also allows producers to voluntarily use a USDA-approved GMO-free label. This way, companies could still promote their products as being free of genetically-modified ingredients. 

Two-thirds of American adults say they support the labeling of GMO ingredients, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.  A 2015 Pew survey found that 57 percent of people believe GMOs are unsafe to eat. Though that same survey found that 88 percent of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science say they are safe. 

"Demand for GMO labeling is extremely high.  But it’s also clear there is confusion from consumers over exactly what GMOs are," says Jennifer Zwagerman, of the Drake University's Agricultural Law Center. "The question that some states are wrestling with is if there is a valid safety or health concern that supports a consumer right-to-know argument, or is labeling something that can be used by companies to create a market demand, such as the organic market."