Calling a Vermont law that creates mandatory labeling of food that has genetically engineered ingredients a "wrecking ball," Republican Sen. Pat Roberts won first-round approval Tuesday of his bill that would circumvent the state law.
Roberts, R-Kansas, is working on a national standard that would allow food companies to voluntarily label products as GE – which the measure's critics say already exists – and that would not allow states to require mandatory labeling of food products containing GE ingredients. The bill now moves to the full Senate, but Roberts acknowledged that many Democrats are reluctant to support the bill.
Roberts, chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said he would work with them to find a solution that offers certainly to the marketplace.
"Time is of the essence," Roberts said, "for not only the agriculture and food value chain but also consumers who together face the wrecking ball of this patchwork of state-by-state mandates."
Vermont's mandatory labeling law goes into effect in July and large food companies are scrambling to get out from under the requirement. Two other states, Maine and Connecticut, passed mandatory labeling laws but they won't go into effect until similar laws are passed in neighboring states.
Another Kansas Republican, Rep. Mike Pompeo, got a voluntary labeling law through the U.S. House last July, but it was not taken up by the Senate.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, didn't support Roberts' bill, although she wants a national standard. Finding consensus had been "extremely challenging," she said. Many Democrats support a bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, which would establish a mandatory national system that would be administered by the Food and Drug Administration.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, also opposed the bill, saying it was a last-minute attempt to undermine consumers' right to know what's in their food.
"It basically tramples states' rights," Leahy said. "It replaces them with a paltry voluntary standard that already exists today under guidance from the FDA."
Campbell Soup, one of the country's largest food companies, announced in January that it will begin to label its soup and other products that have GE ingredients.