This vote was on an amendment that would have allowed states to require food containing genetically engineered ingredients to be specifically labeled to inform consumers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation that authorizes federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not require genetically engineered products to be labeled, and efforts to regulate the industry at the state level had been stymied by the threat of lawsuits and questions about whether states had legal authority to do so. Sen. Sanders’ amendment would have made clear that states could move forward with their own rules governing labeling of genetically engineered food.
Sen. Sanders argued that his amendment would recognize consumers’ right to know what is in the food and beverages they are buying.
“This is a very conservative amendment. It says the American people should have the right to know what is in the food they and their children are eating and if that food contains genetically engineered products,” Sen. Sanders said. “If the people in England, Germany, France, and dozens and dozens of other countries have labels allowing their people to know if they are eating food with genetically engineered products, states in the United States should have that right.”
Opponents of Sen. Sanders’ amendment argued that Congress should let scientists take the lead on whether genetically engineered food is safe. Labeling requirements could hurt an industry that also provides benefits such as strengthened agriculture industries in developing countries, they said.
“We all wear coats and ties in this body,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said. “This amendment would put us in lab coats. Don't wear a lab coat. Vote no on this amendment.”
Sen. Sanders’ amendment was defeated by a vote of 26-73. Voting “yea” were 25 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 1 Republican. Voting “nay” were 45 Republicans and 28 Democrats. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to allow states to require food containing genetically engineered ingredients to be specifically labeled to inform consumers.