Weakened GMO labeling bill passes, Obama urged to veto

Published on
July 15, 2016

Several consumer groups are urging U.S. President Barack Obama to veto a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, 14 July that will implement a national uniform labeling program for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The House voted 306 to 117 to pass legislation that would supersede Alaska’s law requiring labeling on GMO salmon products and Vermont’s mandate that requires all GMO food products to be labeled “produced with genetic engineering.”

As part of the bill, S. 764, the U.S. Senate also voted last week to pass the voluntary national standard allowing GMO food manufacturers to use a text label, a symbol or QR code on the package that consumers can access via smartphone.

On 15 July, activists representing more than 100 organizations are delivering petitions, signed by more than 200,000 people, to Obama, urging him to veto the legislation.

“This bill would preempt Vermont’s law that requires GMO foods to be labeled as ‘produced with genetic engineering.’ Nine out of ten Americans favor such labels,” said the Organic Consumers Association about the petitions. “Vermont’s law requiring words on the package would be replaced with unenforceable federal regulations that, for the first time in history, would allow information to be hidden behind QR codes that can only be read with smartphones.”

Opponents of the bill say it would effectively exempt most GMOs products from labeling. Allowing companies to solely use a QR code for labeling GMO products is not useful, as many Americans don’t have smartphones and only 16 percent of Americans have ever scanned a QR code for any reason, OCA said.

Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R) both opposed the legislation, saying that wild Alaska salmon needs to be differentiated from genetically engineered salmon – or some consumers may avoid buying salmon altogether. GMO salmon “poses a serious threat to the livelihoods of our fishermen, and that's not something that I'm willing to take a risk, that I'm willing to take a gamble on,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor prior to the vote.
On the other hand, several agriculture and food groups as well as AquaBounty, producer of AquAdvantage GE salmon, support the legislation.

“The bill provides for rational implementation by the U.S.D.A., and should avert a major food distribution disruption in the U.S.,” Ron Stotish, president and CEO of AquaBounty, told SeafoodSource, adding that it appears likely that President Obama will sign S. 764. “AquaBounty believes science-based labeling is sound policy. The ability of consumers to access additional information as provided in this bill should allow consumers to satisfy their need for information in an impartial and factual manner.”

In addition, since early 2014, more than 1,100 food and agricultural groups have joined together in support of Congressional action to preempt Vermont’s law and pass a national, uniform food labeling standard “that will provide consumers, farmers and businesses a consistent standard that is the same across the entire country,” the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF) said in a statement.

“After more than two years working with Senators and House Members from both parties, today’s vote is a resounding victory not only for consumers and common sense, but also for the tremendous coalition of agricultural and food organizations that came together in unprecedented fashion to get this solution passed,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and CFSAF co-chair.

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