Vermont Business Magazine Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) was joined by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and others on Wednesday to say legislation that could soon come to the floor of the US Senate would undermine efforts in states around the country to help Americans stay informed about what goes into their food. In 2014, Vermont became the first state in the country to mandate labeling for food that contains genetically modified ingredients. The law went into effect last Friday. Due in part to the state’s bold action, many large companies such as Campbell’s, Frito-Lay, Kellogg, and ConAgra are already labeling their products nationwide.
Press conference begins at the 14 minute mark of the video below.
But, the senators said, legislation recently introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) creates a confusing, misleading and unenforceable national standard for labeling genetically modified food.
“The American people have a right to know what they’re eating,” Sanders said during a press conference on Capitol Hill. “That is why states like Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Alaska have adopted laws to label goods containing GMOs and why many other states are interested and on the path to do that.”
Instead of a uniform labeling standard like Vermont’s law, the bill allows text, symbols or an electronic quick response code to be used. The bill also contains huge loopholes and imposes no federal penalties whatsoever for violating the labeling requirement. If it becomes law, the legislation will preempt Vermont’s standard and create chaos for other states that have passed similar bills.
“The timing of this legislation is not an accident,” Sanders said. “Its goal is to overturn and rescind the very significant legislation passed in the state of Vermont. I will do everything that I can to see that it’s defeated.”
Leahy said, “Some in the Senate, and the big corporations that back this deal, want to throw out the careful work Vermont has done – the record we have compiled – and say, ‘We know best.’ Instead of using Vermont’s law as a floor, these powerful interests are intent on stamping it out as quickly as they can. What’s driving their efforts isn’t consumers’ right to know, but on doing as little as they can get by with. They couldn’t care less if their plan sows more confusion for consumers across the country.”
Leahy said, “This proposal may be an improvement on the DARK Act we worked hard to defeat on March 16. But it’s a fig leaf disguised as a compromise. It is not enough. It can be better. It should be better. And this Vermonter is going to keep fighting to make it better.”
On Wednesday Leahy filed a series of amendments to make key improvements to the proposed bill. Proponents of the bill are expected to block any effort to amend the bill. Leahy said the proposal, a revised version of the DARK Act which was defeated in March under Leahy’s leadership, would preempt Vermont’s longstanding seed labeling laws, raise technology challenges for consumers, particularly in rural areas, and fail to include any enforcement requirements for compliance.
“Companies are already labeling foods that contain genetic engineering,” said Leahy. “It can be done. It should be done. More than 60 countries across the globe require GE labeling. American consumers want and deserve no less. I am proud that Vermont has led the way on a pro-consumer, pro-disclosure label, and I will continue to fight efforts to undermine it.”
Amendments filed by Leahy on Wednesday would:
· Strike provisions to preempt seed labeling laws (Vermont’s law has been on the books since 2004) [text];
· Strengthen the definition of bioengineering to encompass highly processed foods [text];
· Provide that if the required study determines that consumers will not have sufficient access to information via electronic or other digital codes, that the Secretary shall require only on-package disclosure [text];
· Improve the required study to include an assessment of consumer awareness, in addition to consumer access [text];
· Require the language accompanying an electronic/digital code to say “GE information” instead of simply “food information” [text];
· Strike all references to the electronic/digital disclosure [text];
· Grandfather Vermont’s Act 120 and any other similar labeling laws that were enacted before January 1, 2016 [text];
· Set the amount of GE food required to trigger a label at 0.9 percent to match the Vermont Act 120 and international labeling standards [text]; and
· Strengthen consumer privacy within the bill’s requirements [text]The leaders of Earthjustice, Greenpeace USA, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Fund and the Sierra Club on Tuesday sent a letter to senators in opposition to the Stabenow and Roberts’ bill. “We urge senators to heed the call for greater transparency, equitable access to information and protecting our right to know whether the foods we are eating and feeding our families contain genetically modified ingredients by opposing this bill,” the organizations wrote. Consumers Union, Just Label It, Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch also oppose the bill.
Governor Shumlin, who signed the Vermont bill into law in 2014, said Wednesday: “I want to thank Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and Congressman Welch for their efforts to protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law in Congress. I often say that Vermont has the best congressional delegation in America, and the delegation’s efforts on this issue are exactly why. Vermonters should be proud of the work their delegation is doing on their behalf in Washington D.C.
“Today’s action by the Senate is exactly why Americans don’t trust Washington D.C. It’s a sad day when so many members of the U.S. Senate sell out to big food and big business and turn their backs on those who elected them. This flawed bill is a capitulation to the food industry that does not even come close to providing the transparency that consumers deserve.
“Vermont acted in good faith to provide its citizens with a common sense labeling law that guarantees clear, accessible information. For a Republican-controlled Congress that continually argues for states’ rights to act to take away Vermonters’ right to know what is in their food is the height of hypocrisy and a sad statement on the power of special interests in Congress.
“I hope members of the US Congress will begin listening to their constituents instead of food industry lobbyists and kill this flawed bill before it is too late.”
The Environmental Working Group has calculated that food and biotech companies and trade associations have spent nearly $200 million to oppose state GMO labeling ballot initiatives such as Vermont's. When combined with Washington lobbying expenditures that mention GMO labeling, the total amount spent by labeling opponents is close to $400 million.
Sanders and Leahy were joined at the press conference by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
Source: Sanders. Leahy. 7.6.2016