More than a year after debates began, the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee reached a bipartisan deal Thursday that will require nationwide labelling of genetically modified products, but in ways that may not be clear to consumers, consumer and environmental groups warned.
“This is a rollback of democracy at the behest of the world’s largest agribusiness and biotech corporations,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This deal seems to be designed to ensure that big food processing companies and the biotechnology industry continue to profit by misleading consumers.”
Although Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas claimed the bill they initiated will mandate a "national uniform standard" for GMO labeling, the standards are completely underscoring what consumer groups expected from the senators.
According to the bill, putting a clear text on the product informing the consumer would be optional, as the agro-industry would be allowed to instead use a text label, a symbol or an electronic label accessed by smartphone.
“This deal can still be described as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act because it will ensure that most consumers won’t know how their food is produced," added Hauter.
Any food product derived from an animal is also exempted from the text: “The legislation prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed," said the legislators.
Moreover, the Roberts-Stabenow legislation will "immediately prohibit states or other entities from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered," hindering for instance Vermont's recent move to mandate companies give consumers clear, on-package labels.
“I will not ignore the overwhelming science that has determined biotechnology to be safe, but with the implementation of Vermont’s disruptive law on the horizon, it is our duty to act,” added Senator Roberts in the statement.
According to OpenSecrets, both Roberts and Stabenow's electoral campaigns were largely funded by agriculture and crop production industries in recent years.
Meanwhile, the Grocery Manufacturers Association praised the senators' initiative.
"This bipartisan agreement ensures consumers across the nation can get clear, consistent information about their food and beverage ingredients and prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling laws," said Pamela Bailey, president of that group.