The July deadline requiring genetically modified organism labeling on packaged foods sold in Vermont is fast approaching. But some members of Congress and players in the food industry are still trying to stop this new law from taking effect.

Recently, Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced a draft bill that's essentially the Senate's version of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599)—which has also been called the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act by consumer groups, including Consumer Reports. That bill was passed by the House of Representatives this past summer.

Like the DARK Act, Roberts’ version would preempt any state GMO labeling laws, such as Vermont’s new law, and calls on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set voluntary GMO labeling standards. It also directs the USDA to promote GMOs. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the bill this week, and it could soon come to the full Senate for a vote. 

But on March 2, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley introduced a bill that would require companies to label their products as containing GMOs, but offers them several options for doing so. Manufacturers could indicate an ingredient was genetically engineered in parentheses after the ingredient; identify GMO ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredient list; or simply put a catch-all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering" (which is how the Campbell Soup Co. says it will label its products).

The bill would also give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would clearly denote on the packaging that the product contains GMO ingredients.

Consumer Reports has long been a supporter of mandatory GMO labeling, believing consumers have the right to know what is in their food and make informed choices based on what is disclosed on labels.

"We urge senators to support the Merkley proposal as they move forward on GMO labeling legislation," says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

One of the food industry’s arguments against mandatory GMO labeling is that it would raise food prices. Most recently, a study released by the Corn Refiners Association (corn grown in the U.S. is largely genetically modified) concluded that consumers would spend an extra $1,000 per year at the supermarket.

But a previous analysis by Consumer Reports, conducted by an independent economic research firm, found that GMO labeling would add just $2.30 per year to the average consumers’ grocery bill—or less than a penny per day. See the full report (PDF).

Why such a large difference in the numbers?

“Like previous industry-funded studies, the Corn Refiners Association study lumps the cost of changing food labels to list GMO ingredients together with the cost of producing products using non-GMO ingredients,” says Halloran. “Our findings are much more realistic because we looked at the labeling costs only, which is all the Vermont law requires.”

Indeed, in January when Campbell announced that it would label its products as containing GMOs, the company made it clear that there would be no increase in the price of its products.  

“More than 90 percent of consumers want GMO labeling on food packaging,” says Halloran. “Increasingly, consumers are looking for more transparency from food companies, not less. If the Roberts’ bill passes, it will be a big step backwards. The Merkley bill gives manufacturers options while still giving consumers the information they want.”

If you support GMO labeling, now is the time to alert your senators. We make it easy by providing a form that lets you send your message instantly.

Editor's note: This is an update of a previous article published Feb. 23, 2016.