By Mike Pomranz
Updated July 08, 2016
© Norma Jean Gargasz / Alamy

Last night, the Senate passed a bill bringing Americans one step closer to having a national standard for GMO labeling on food products. However, whether this new system would be a victory for GMO labeling advocates or actually a step back appears to be up for some debate.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 63-30, had bipartisan support, but interestingly, seemed to be most hotly contested by those seeking stronger GMO labeling in the first place. According to the Des Moines Register, the proposed legislation, which was altered so much it has to go back to the House for approval, gives large food-makers three options for what would be mandatory GMO labels: written labels, a USDA-created symbol or an electronic option like a QR code. Meanwhile, smaller food brands could, instead, put the information on a website or supply a phone number people could call that would provide the information. Maybe most importantly, the legislation would prevent states from establishing their own rules for GMO labels – meaning more stringent laws, like the one recently put in place in Vermont that required clear package labeling, could be struck down. This is seen by many in favor of GMO labeling as backdoor that would allow food makers to continue to hide their ingredients from consumers or, at the very least, make them challenging to find.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders slammed the bill. “This is just another shameful example of how big-money interests are using their influence to enact policies that are contrary to what the vast majority of the American people want and what they support,” he said. “[This legislation] will create a confusing, misleading and unenforceable national standard for labeling GMOs. It's a huge setback about the consumer's right to know what is in their food.”

However, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, one of the sponsors of the bill, tried to paint it a win. “These are some of the toughest negotiations I have ever been in, and we have to be willing to have some give and take,” she said. “Citizens across the country ... are getting the right to know in a way that provides accurate information.”

Despite the strong feelings on all sides, it’s safe to say that no one expected any legislation to bring a sense of finality to the GMO debate. In fact, the truth is probably quite the opposite: the science of genetic modification and the labeling of products that use it are likely both in their infancy. By the time it’s all said and done, maybe the crops themselves will have become sentient and can put their own vote in.