GM labelling laws vex U.S. lawmakers

Although food labelling rules vary from state to state some U.S. officials think ‘the marketplace will sort it out’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Labelling of genetically modified crops has been a big, messy issue in the U.S. Congress, and it will probably stay a mess even as U.S. states begin imposing their own local food labelling rules.

The Senate agriculture committee chair, the Senate minority leader, and the House of Representatives minority leader all sounded pessimistic that a national law could stop what appears to be the beginning of a “hodgepodge” of state GMO labelling standards.

“I just don’t see the votes being here to pre-empt states to take away states’ rights and consumers’ abilities to pass laws in their states, without having a national standard,” said Deb Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate agriculture committee, speaking to members of the North American Agricultural Journalists April 25.

Vermont is the first state set to require food packages to state if they contain GM ingredients, with a few more states already working on possible labeling rules.

On July 1, Vermont’s law comes into force. There have been major efforts in Congress to “pre-empt” state-based GMO labelling laws, but those efforts have stalled because not enough Democrats in the Senate support those attempts.

That means GM labelling rules will likely become more varied from state to state state laws, unless a national standard and law about GMO label claims becomes law, which Stabenow said will take a lot of work.

Senate agriculture committee chair Pat Roberts, a Republican, said “we’ll work this out,” but sounded doubtful.

He warned that about 31 states are working on labelling rules, and that’s a threat to farmers and food producers because of the confusion it will create.

“The food industry cannot be successful (with a plethora of different standards), and the entire system from farm to fork, we’re already seeing reformulation (switching ingredients from GMO-containing to GMO-free) that’s going to spread,” said Roberts.

That is likely to affect sugar from sugar beets and canola, Roberts said.

Collin Peterson, the leading Democrat on the House of Representatives agriculture committee, also doubts any national effort to pre-empt individual state laws on GMO labelling would take effect before the Vermont law is passed.

However, he has been cheered by the announcement by a number of major companies that they will label GM ingredients on their packages, but were not dropping GMO ingredients.

“I think the marketplace will sort this out,” said Peterson.

He said if there is no major change in consumer buying patterns after a short time of having GM ingredient labels, then the issue will likely die.

Stabenow said she doesn’t think it will be enough to let states impose their own rules, and added that Congress must establish a national rule and standard before it can prevent states from imposing their own.

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