In the midst of a week of debates and speeches about the federal farm bill (S. 954), supporters of the right to know whether or not food products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) suffered a setback on May 23. An amendment (S. Amdt. 965) sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) would have helped states to pass laws requiring labeling of GMO foods. (Vermont recently made history when its House of Representatives passed such a labeling bill, as CMD reported.) Sander's amendment lost, 27-71.
Many states are considering legislation to label GMOs. When the House of Representatives in Sanders' home state of Vermont passed a labeling bill earlier this month, it sparked concerns that the state could be sued by biotechnology or food industries. Sanders said his amendment "would protect states from threatened lawsuits.... Monsanto and other major corporations should not get to decide this, the people and their elected representatives should."
The amendment would also have required the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to report to Congress within two years on the percentage of food and beverages in the United States that contain genetically engineered ingredients, according to a statement.
Among the surprising votes against the amendment were those of Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reached out to both Senators' offices for comment, but did not receive responses. Massachusetts is a stronghold of the biotechnology industry, and Wisconsin grows quite a bit of genetically engineered corn and soy.
Meanwhile, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Harry Reid (D-NV) voted for the bill, marking a switch from their no-votes when a similar amendment was introduced in 2012. Food and Water Watch, a non-profit group that works to ensure clean water and safe food, notes that other notable supporters included senators from states "with active grassroots campaigns to pass state laws on GE labeling, including both senators from Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia, as well as Senator Bennett from Colorado, Senator Tester from Montana ..., [and] Senator Heinrich from New Mexico ..." (New York and Nevada also have active GMO labeling campaigns).
By the end of the week, however, the Senate had failed to approve the farm bill, contrary to previous signs indicating that it would. That means the debate is on hold until the Senate returns from recess in June.
To read the case for labeling GMO foods, see Food and Water Watch's guide here.