WASHINGTON – The US Senate failed to advance a bill that would have blocked states from enacting laws mandating labels on genetically modified foods and ingredients. The vote was 48-49.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas introduced the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Bill in February. The legislation would have made the labeling of genetically modified ingredients in food and beverage products voluntary, in addition to preempting state initiatives to pass mandatory labeling laws. The bill is a response to a mandatory GMO labeling law in Vermont that will take effect July 1.

Roberts criticized opponents of the bill for failing to put forward an alternative. He added that maintaining the status quo put consumers at risk of higher food costs, while leaving farmers and food manufacturers to face uncertainty in the marketplace.

Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS)

“My approach to labeling acknowledges what many American consumers forget: our food is abundant, affordable and safe,” Roberts said in a statement. “We must continue our reliance on science and technology to ensure our continued prosperity.”

The Chicago-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which supported the legislation, said the organization already has heard from food companies that have changed packaging to comply with the Vermont labeling law only to have the same packaging rejected in another state. But the real losers, FMI said, will be consumers “who are accustomed to enjoying low prices and an abundant availability of products due to tremendous advances of US agriculture…”

“We know a patchwork system will drive up costs; we will monitor closely to determine the impact,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, said in a statement. “We know we now will have a de facto national GMO labeling system, one that not only has been established by Vermont but also one that exempts from its requirements two of its home state product categories, dairy and maple syrup, and one that very few other than those in Vermont seem to think is the best way to achieve informed disclosure to consumers.”

But opponents of the bill, who dubbed the legislation the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, applauded the vote as a rejection of attempts by the food industry to keep consumers in the dark about their foods.

“Consumers have made their voices heard to their elected representatives in the Senate and they said clearly, “We want the right to know more about our food,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “We are pleased that the Senate made the right decision to stop the DARK Act, and we remain hopeful that Congressional leaders can craft a national mandatory compromise that works for consumers and the food industry.”

Lisa Archer, technology program director for Friends of the Earth, said the bill would have done nothing to satisfy consumer demand for transparency in the food system. “The bipartisan defeat of this bill is a testament to the strength of the movement for a truly sustainable, healthy and transparent food system,” Archer said in a statement. “We urge the Senate to stand strong against any proposals that fall short of clear, on-package labels that allow Americans to make an informed choice about what they eat.”