Merkley, Leahy, Tester, Feinstein Introduce GMO Food Labeling Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation that would ensure that consumers can find GMO ingredient labeling on food packaging while ensuring that food producers are not subject to confusing or conflicting labeling requirements in different locations.

The senators’ legislation presents an alternative to a Senate Agriculture Committee bill that would hide ingredient information from consumers by overturning state GMO labeling laws.

Merkley is the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, on which Senators Tester, Leahy and Feinstein also serve. Leahy is also a former Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“Rather than blocking consumers’ access to information they want, the U.S. Senate should move forward with a solution that works for businesses and consumers alike,” said Merkley. “There is a way to give consumers the information they are asking for without placing unfair or conflicting requirements on food producers. This legislation provides the common-sense pathway forward.”

“This bill is an important step forward to give consumers a uniform national mandatory label, and it seeks to address the needs of food producers by giving them a suite of options to comply with a mandatory national label,” said Leahy. “I believe that until a national mandatory label like this is enacted, Congress should not preempt state laws, like Vermont’s Act 120.”

“American consumers have been asking for this information and this bill strikes a reasonable balance that will deliver it,” said Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy, Montana.  “Transparency in food labeling strengthens our families and communities, and ensures consumers aren’t left in the dark.” 

The Biotechnology Food Labeling and Uniformity Act would allow American consumers to see whether a food has been prepared with GM ingredients, while offering food manufacturers several options for including this information on or near the ingredients list. This framework meets the needs of consumers, the vast majority of whom support labeling according to polls, and producers, who worry that a patchwork of state labeling laws would be costly and difficult to comply with and confusing for consumers.    

Specifically, the Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act would amend the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to require manufacturers to disclose the presence of GM ingredients on the Nutrition Fact Panel in one of four ways: 

  1. Manufacturers may use a parenthesis following the relevant ingredient to indicate that this ingredient is “Genetically Engineered.”
  2. Manufacturers may identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.
  3. Manufacturers may simply apply a catch all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering.” 
  4. The FDA would have the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of GM ingredients on packaging. 

None of these options would require front panel disclosures or “warning” statements intending to disparage GM ingredients.

In addition to providing concrete disclosure options, today’s GMO labeling bill would also provide regulatory certainty to national food manufacturers. This legislative proposal represents a uniform Federal GM labeling standard with sufficient flexibility to suit manufacturing operations of various sizes and markets, while also giving national manufacturers in compliance with the federal standard safe harbor from the potential patchwork of state laws.  

Through this proposal, interested consumers have the ability to find clear information about GM ingredients written directly on the product label when making food purchasing decisions, and food producers have regulatory certainty in complying with a single GMO labeling standard.

The legislation is endorsed by Amy’s Kitchen, Ben and Jerry’s, Campbell’s Soup Company, Consumers Union, Just Label It, and Nature’s Path.

“The legislation reflects Campbell’s support for mandatory national standards for labeling of foods made with GMOs,” said Kelly D. Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs for Campbell Soup Company. “We applaud Senator Jeff Merkley and his colleagues for responding to consumers’ desire for the information they seek in a consistent and transparent manner.”

“As a businessman, I know the value of transparency and trust. Consumers are demanding the right to know more about their food and how it’s grown, and so far, the response from Congress and many companies has been to keep them in the dark,” said Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Just Label It and Chairman of Stonyfield Farms. “I believe Senator Merkley’s bill is the kind of proposal that could bridge the divide between consumers and food companies on the issue of GMO labeling. This bill will give consumers the information they want, while allowing manufacturers the flexibility they say they need to implement mandatory, on-package labeling.”

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, said, “This is what real disclosure looks like. This bill finds a way to set a national standard and avoid a patchwork of state labeling laws while still giving consumers the information they want and deserve about what’s in their food. This compromise offers food companies different labeling options and ensures that all consumers – no matter where they are in the country or whether they own a smartphone – have the information they overwhelmingly say they want. We urge Senators to support this proposal as they move forward on GMO labeling legislation.”