A federal bill that would require labelling of foods in the US made with genetically engineered ingredients – commonly known as GMOs – has cleared a major hurdle in the Senate and is on course to win final approval in the Senate within days.

The bill, which moved forward yesterday (6 July) in a bipartisan procedural vote with 65 to 32 in favour, aims to introduce a national standard on the mandatory disclosure of GMOs.

However, opponents of the bill threw dollar notes at senators from the Senate gallery to protest at what they claimed was “big business” influence over those supporting the proposed legislation. 

The Senate’s move is seen as a major step forward for food companies, farm groups and the biotech industry, which has been pushing for a national standard as opposed to having labelling laws introduced by individual state governments – such as one that came into effect in the state of Vermont last week.

Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) president and CEO Pamela Bailey said the vote was a move towards the the passage of legislation “to protect consumers, farmers and  businesses from the harmful effects of Vermont’s GMO labelling law”.

Bailey said: “Vermont’s mandatory on-package GMO labelling law took effect on 1 July and consumers and small businesses in the state are already facing fewer products on the shelves and higher costs of compliance on small businesses. The Senate needs to pass the bill this week so that it can be voted on by the House before the July recess at the end of next week.”

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The bill would require “mandatory disclosure with several options, including text on package, a symbol, or a link to a website”, such as QR coding or similar technology. Under the proposals, small food manufacturers “will be allowed to use websites or telephone numbers to satisfy disclosure requirements”, while very small manufacturers and restaurants would be exempted. 

According to the GMA, the disclosure requirement in the Senate bill “meets the demand by shoppers for more information about their food”.

Last month, the chairman and CEO of Nestle USA, Paul Grimwood, welcomed the proposed legislation. He said: “We’ve been looking for a clear and consistent way to disclose GMO ingredients to consumers who rightfully want to know what is in their food and how their food is made”.

However, US advocacy group Food & Water Watch has criticised the bill and defended the Vermont law as being about “clear, on-package labelling”. The group said “advocates of GMO labelling have pushed for clear, on-package language, just like what’s required under the Vermont law”.

The group said the Senate bill “would allow manufacturers to post call-for-more-information phone numbers or even smart phone QR codes if they so desire – meaning that if you have a phone with the right app installed, a steady hand and a solid data connection, you’ll be able to access a website that will tell you what’s in the food you’re buying”.