Toby Talbot / AP File Photo Customers shop for produce at the Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier. Vermont's 17 food cooperatives supported legislation requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods. The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to the farm bill that would allow states to require such labeling.
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, said his amendment was an attempt to clarify that states can require the labels, as several legislatures have moved toward putting such laws into place. Both the Vermont House and Connecticut Senate voted this month to make food companies declare genetically modified ingredients on their packages.
The Senate rejected the amendment on a 71-27 vote during debate on a wide-ranging, five-year farm bill that includes generous supports for crops like corn and soybeans that often are genetically modified varieties. Senators from farm states that use a lot of genetically modified crops strongly opposed the amendment, saying the issue should be left up to the federal government and that labels could raise costs for consumers.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require the labeling, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have stepped up their efforts to lobby for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating pure crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified.
Agribusiness and seed companies say their products help boost crop production, lower prices at the grocery store and feed the world, particularly in developing countries. The FDA and Agriculture Department say the engineered foods they have approved are safe — so safe, they do not even need to be labeled as such — and cannot be significantly distinguished from conventional varieties.
Sanders said he is going to continue to push the issue in Congress. He said he offered the amendment to protect states that approve labeling laws from lawsuits by major biotech companies like Monsanto that engineer the seeds.
“The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat,” Sanders said.
The Senate may consider more amendments to the farm bill this week, including others dealing with genetically modified foods. The legislation sets policy for farm subsidies, other rural programs and domestic food aid.
The Senate passed a similar farm bill last year, but the House did not consider it. The House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the farm bill last week, and the full House is expected to vote on the bill this summer.
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