The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would for the first time require food to carry labels listing GMO ingredients, which labeling supporters say could create loopholes for some U.S. crops.
The Senate voted 63-30 for the bill that would display GMO contents with words, pictures or a bar code that can be scanned with smartphones. The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) would decide which ingredients would be considered genetically modified.
The measure now goes to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass.
“This bipartisan bill ensures that consumers and families throughout the United States will have access, for the first time ever, to information about their food through a mandatory, nationwide label for food products with GMOs,” Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said in a statement.
A nationwide standard is favored by the food industry, which says state-by-state differences could inflate costs for labeling and distribution. But mandatory GMO labeling of any kind would still be seen as a loss for Big Food, which has spent millions lobbying against it.
Farmers lobbied against the Vermont law, worrying that labeling stigmatizes GMO crops and could hurt demand for food containing those ingredients, but have applauded this law.
Critics like Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, say the bill’s vague language and allowance for electronic labels for scanning could limit its scope and create confusion.
GMO Labeling Loopholes
Food ingredients like beet sugar and soybean oil, which can be derived from genetically-engineered crops but contain next to no genetic material by the time they are processed, may not fall under the law’s definition of a bioengineered food, critics say.
GMO corn may also be excluded thanks to ambiguous language, some said.
The vast majority of corn, soybeans and sugar crops in the United States are produced from genetically-engineered seeds. The domestic sugar market has been strained by rising demand for non-GMO ingredients like cane sugar.