GMO labeling fight stalls

WASHINGTON — A bill that would have banned states from being able to require labeling of genetically modified ingredients in foods has stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Both Hawaii Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz opposed the measure, which was defeated in a 48-49 vote on Wednesday.

“As a longtime advocate for consumer choice, I support a mandatory federal label that will allow families in Hawaii and across the country to make more informed decisions about the foods they choose to buy,” Hirono said in press release. “I opposed Senator Roberts’ proposal because it would override state labeling laws and prevent states from being able to take future action on the issue without requiring a strong federal alternative.”

Vermont is the only state with a labeling requirement set to go into effect in July, but other states are considering similar measures.

Mary Lacques, Oahu coordinator for Hawaii Seed, said the company thanks both of the senators for “defending the labeling of genetically engineered food by voting to defeat the DARK (Denying America’s Right To Know) Act.”

“Their vote is in sync with the Hawaii Attorney General, joining seven other state attorney generals validating the Vermont labeling law,” Lacques said.

Kauai councilmember Mason Chock said he supports of the decision as well.

“Disclosure and labeling is important and I fully support the decision of Congress for transparency,” Chock said.

The procedural vote is a setback for the food industry, which has lobbied to block Vermont’s law. The food industry argues that GMOs are safe and the labels will make overall food production more costly at every level.

“BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization) will continue to work with Senate leaders to find a bipartisan solution to the GMO food labeling issue in a way that meets consumers’ needs, protects farmers’ rights and promotes the sue of biotechnology to feed the world,” said Brian Baenig, executive vie president for food and agriculture for BIO.

“Consumers should have access to information about how our food is grown, but that information needs to be conveyed in an accurate, fact-based way,” he continued.

Representatives from Kauai’s seed company Syngenta said Baenig’s statement speaks for them as well.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans also are made into popular processed food ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil. The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients.

The Food and Drug Administration says they are safe, and there is little scientific concern about the safety of those GMOs on the market. But advocates for labeling say not enough is known about their risks. Among supporters of labeling are many organic companies that are barred by law from using modified ingredients in their foods.

Those advocates have been fighting state by state to enact the labeling, with the eventual goal of a national standard.

Republican senators were hoping to find compromise with Democrats who have supported mandatory labeling. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, tweaked the bill that advanced from his committee this month to require the Agriculture Department to measure whether food companies were using voluntary labels. If not enough companies were doing so in three years, the department would require the labeling.

But that wasn’t enough for most Democrats.

Michaela Boudreaux, with GMO Free Kauai, said the organization considers Wednesday’s decision a win.

“Reason prevailed with the defeat of the DARK Act,” Boudreaux said. “Our laws should not be made to favor industry and all Americans deserve the right to know what’s in their food.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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