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Senate Ag Leaders Lobby Hard to Pass DARK Act Compromise to Preempt Vermont GMO Law

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Despite Vermont's historic GMO labeling bill coming into effect June 1, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are vigorously lobbying to get their industry-approved GMO labeling deal passed before Congress's summer break.

Senate Ag leaders Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow hope to pass legislation allowing food companies to label their products containing GMOs with a QR code instead of on-package labels.

According to POLITICO's Morning Agriculture blog, the Senate Ag leaders are using "every part of the lobbying playbook," with "letters being sent, staffs briefed, reports and FDA assessments flaunted, and farmers and consumers are being encouraged to inundate lawmakers with phone calls."

Roberts has been reportedly distributing a flier touting that the bill will nullify the "dangerous"Vermont law and stop other states from passing similar legislation.

Even though Vermont's mandate comes into effect Friday, the Senators's bill still has a small window of passage as Vermont's attorney general will not start forcing producers to label their food products containing genetically engineered ingredients until the start of 2017.

A confident Stabenow told POLITICO that enough votes will be secured for the deal to move forward, while Roberts said, "We had 46 [Republicans] last time, and we're hoping to get a few more." Last March, the Senate voted down Roberts's previous bill that would have prohibited states from requiring genetically modified food labels. The bill required 60 votes for passage but failed 48-49.

Roberts said his latest GMO bill will be the first order of business next week and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will set up a cloture vote, according to this tweet from Agripulse senior editor Philip Brasher.

While Democrat Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced support for the bill, it is not clear if it will gather enough votes to pass. And not to mention, the bill has to pass the House and be signed by President Obama before it becomes law.

Vermont's own Sen. Bernie Sanders has announced he will try to block Senate consideration of the bill. In a statement on Tuesday, the Democratic presidential candidate said:

I am very proud that Vermont has led the country in GMO labeling. This bill would preempt what Vermont and other states have done. GMO labeling exists in dozens of countries around the world. It is not controversial. Already major food companies in our country have begun labeling their products. People have a right to know what is in the food they eat. I am going to do everything I can to defeat this legislation.

By putting a hold on the bill, Sanders can block it from coming up for debate unless the proponents can muster up 60 votes.

The Roberts-Stabenow bill has been described by opponents as another version of the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act as it includes provisions that would establish a federal program based on QR codes, a symbol, 1-800 numbers or a statement on packages referring people to websites.

While many major food companies have already started labeling their products to comply with Vermont's labeling mandate, under the new federal scheme proposed by the Senators, food makers can change their labels to a QR code.

In fact, both Campbell's and General Mills have already said they support the new proposal.

"We need consistency across the country. And without this national solution, we risked having a system of 50 different regulations impacting our packages," General Mills' Mike Siemienas told The Olympian.

"We will continue to comply with Vermont's law until Congress and the president enact legislation that pre-empts and replaces it," Tom Hushen of Campbell's said. "With or without new federal legislation, the Vermont label will continue to appear on shelves across most of the country and well into the future."

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