GMO Food Labeling Bill Passes in the Senate

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The Senate passed a compromise bill that will require labeling of foods made with genetic engineering. The compromise allows food companies several options including text labels or bar codes that consumers could scan to find out about genetically engineered ingredients. The bill now will go to the house for approval. The house has been reluctant to require labeling of genetically engineered foods, but this compromise would prevent a patchwork of laws across the nation that would be difficult for food companies to deal with.

The US Department of Agriculture will decide what products should be labeled under this bill. At first glance this might seem unnecessary, but there is not always agreement as to what constitutes a genetically engineered product. Here are a few examples.

1. Corn/soybean/canola oil: Oil derived from genetically engineered crops does not contain protein or DNA and it would be impossible to test the oil to determine if it came from a genetically engineered crop. Similarly, products that contain sugar might be confusing. Commercial sugar is pure sucrose, there is no DNA or proteins in sugar whether if comes from non-gmo sugarcane or genetically engineered sugar beets. The bill states that foods do not have to be labeled if they do not contain genetic material that is the product of in vitro recombinant DNA techniques. This would suggest foods that contain oils and sweeteners from genetically engineered crops would not have to be labeled.

2. Cheese: A majority of cheese produced in the US is a product of genetic engineering as genetically engineered microbes are used to produce rennet to curdle milk in cheese making. Genetically engineered rennet replaces rennet collected primarily form calf stomachs in cheese production. Vermont’s labeling exempted cheese from labeling. There are also genetically engineered microbes approved for making wine and beer. California’s failed effort to mandate labeling of genetically engineered food exempted these microbes.

3. Foods containing meat: Under the Vermont labeling law a product like spaghettiOs would have to be labeled, but spaghettiOs with meat balls would be exempt because they contain over 2% meat.

Article on the Senate bill.

Article on the consequences of labeling genetically engineered foods.

The senate bill won support of the Organic Trade Association. The bill would allow for organic crops to be labeled “non-GMO”. Currently companies have to pay a third party such as the Non-GMO Project to certify their products as GMO free. (NPR article on the bill)

Some activist are not happy with the compromise. In this article one can see that an example of activists who are not satisfied with the bill because they see the goal of labeling as elimination of genetically engineered foods.