March 18, 2016

Hirono, Schatz vote against bill concerning GMO food labeling

Hawaii’s U.S. senators voted Wednesday against a bill that would block states from requiring food labels to note the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono cast “nay” votes in the 48-49 defeat of S.2609, which would have amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. The bill required 60 votes for passage.

Introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the bill came in response to a Vermont initiative requiring labeling of foods containing GMOs. That law was passed in 2014 and goes into effect July 1. Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling measures that will only go into effect if similar laws are enacted in neighboring states.

“I think there’ll probably be a domino effect once it (the Vermont law) gets implemented,” state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, said Thursday. Ruderman, who owns the Island Naturals health food stores, said the cost of labeling GMOs is “exactly zero.”

The federal bill would have instead created voluntary labeling standards while prohibiting states from enacting their own regulations.

Hirono on Thursday cited her longtime advocacy for consumer choice as the reasoning behind her “no” vote.

“I support a mandatory federal label that will allow families in Hawaii and across the country to make more informed decisions about the foods they choose to buy,” she said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Sen. Schatz Tweeted to his followers that he planned to vote against the bill.

“Consumers want to know how their food is made and what’s in it,” he said.

The Senate bill is similar to House legislation that passed 275-150 last July, with Hawaii Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai voting against it.

That bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, but has not yet had a hearing.

Statewide efforts to create mandatory labeling in Hawaii have been met with little success so far. A state Senate bill that carried over from last year’s legislative session did not receive a hearing this year.

In September, state Attorney General Douglas Chin was one of eight AGs to sign an amicus brief supporting Vermont’s right to require labeling. The Vermont legislation is being challenged in court by food industry groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The case is currently before the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington also signed the brief.

“The whole reason that states are addressing GMO labeling is that the federal government has failed to,” Ruderman said. “Nobody wants a patchwork of regulations. That’s not the ideal, but everybody does have the right to know what’s in their food.”

By:  Ivy Ashe
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald