In a hearing this morning in the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, committee members voted 14-6, including all Republican members and three Democrats (Klobuchar (MN), Heitkamp (ND), and Donnelly (IN)), to advance Chairman Roberts’ (R-KS) GMO-labeling bill to the Senate floor. Many senators acknowledged that the bill was not perfect, but that something needed to be done. Some of the senators who noted the bill’s flaws voted to move the bill forward anyway with the understanding that more work would be done to improve the bill once on the Senate floor.

Chairman Roberts’ bill would establish a national voluntary bioengineered food labeling standard, which would prohibit any express or implied claim about the safety or quality of a food based on its status as a bioengineered or non-bioengineered food. The bill would also expressly preempt state-level bioengineered food labeling standards, such as Vermont’s Law 120. Vermont’s law establishes mandatory labeling standards for food sold in Vermont and is set to take effect on July 1, 2016. Industry eyes remain on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for a decision in the lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association against the state of Vermont challenging the law’s constitutionality under the First Amendment. Oral argument on the case was in October, and the decision could be released at any time.

Ranking Member Stabenow (D-MI) did not support the bill, and wrote that “[a] voluntary program is not enough to meet consumer demand. That is why I cannot support it.” Chairman Roberts, on the other hand, said that this labeling issue “is really a conversation about a few states dictating to every state the way food moves from farmers to consumers in the value chain. We have a responsibility to ensure that the national market can work for everyone, including farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.”

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.