I believe consumers have a right to know what is in their food. For that reason, I voted for a bipartisan bill in the Senate on July 7th, 2016, to establish a federal requirement that GMO food products be labeled. The President is expected to sign this legislation into law.
This bill creates a national standard across all 50 states for how GMO products may be labeled. It provides three options for labeling: a statement saying the product contains GMO ingredients; a symbol conveying this; or an electronically-readable code, such as a QR code, that consumers can scan to find out GMO information. It eliminates a number of exemptions to labeling granted by Vermont's state-level GMO law so that some 25,000 more food products will be labeled.
I've heard from some Virginians who have concerns about several aspects of this bill, and I'd like to address them.
On the preemption of Vermont's state law, since food products are sold nationwide, I believe it is appropriate in this case for federal law to establish uniform standards for these products. Virginia's state government has no plans to label GMOs at the state level, so under this federal bill, Virginians will have access to GMO information on their store shelves for the first time.
On the definition of what constitutes a GMO, this bill's definition covers the GMO ingredients of all food products on the market today and gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority to close off any loopholes that companies may seek to exploit. Though certainly narrower than other definitions of GMO, the bill specifically clarifies that this does not apply to current standards of the USDA Organic certification. Consumers can rest assured that if they see "USDA Organic" on a product, it means the product is GMO-free.
On the availability of an electronic scanning option like a QR code as a form of labeling, the bill requires that the scanning option to be minimally cumbersome and to take the consumer directly to the GMO information. In addition, many food companies like General Mills, Kellogg's, and Campbell's Soup have already decided that an on-package GMO label is easier than this electronic option.
I agree that some improvements could have made the bill even better, which is why I voted with Senator Bernie Sanders and others on a procedural motion to allow more amendments during Senate consideration. Though this motion did not pass, I still believe this compromise bill is a major net win for those who believe consumers should have a right to know GMO information about the foods they consume.
Thank you again for contacting me and for sharing your views on this important issue.