The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 63-30 to approve a bill that would require a mandatory labeling system of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for all 50 states.

The measure would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine which food products and ingredients should be labeled as GMO. Those products would be labeled by text, symbols or a bar code that can be scanned with smartphones. The USDA would have two years to develop the rules and regulations for the nationwide labeling program.

The measure now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass.

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would pre-empt a bill set to take effect in Vermont that was set to take effect on July 1. Critics of the Vermont legislation have said that even though it is a Vermont law, it would have a widespread nationwide impact requiring food companies from other states that sell in Vermont to comply with the law. It would also create the potential for a patchwork of different state laws that would be cumbersome and confusing, adversaries say.

“Today is a victory for farmers, ranchers, sound science, and anyone who eats on a budget,” Roberts said in a statement. “Getting to an agreement wasn’t easy, but today’s strong showing in the Senate is a result of the way we get things done in the Agriculture Committee – with hard work and bipartisanship. … Tonight’s vote is the most important vote for agriculture in the last 20 years. We worked hard to ensure the marketplace works for everyone. … Our legislation allows farmers to continue using sound science to produce more food with less resources, gives flexibility to food manufacturers in disclosing information, and gives access to more food information that consumers demand.”

“This bipartisan bill ensures that consumers and families throughout the United States will have access, for the first time ever, to information about their food through a mandatory, nationwide label for food products with GMOs,” Stabenow said in a statement.

Support from agriculture industry

The vote was supported by agriculture groups, including the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the American Soybean Association (ASA), although some said the bill is an imperfect compromise.

“The Roberts-Stabenow agreement is must-have legislation to prevent a patchwork system of state GE labeling laws. The balanced, commonsense agreement provides consumers ample information to assist in making informed food purchasing decisions, while giving food companies options of how to provide that information,” the AFIA said in a statement.

The NGFA said it prefers the Senate’s bill as opposed to the Vermont law.

“NGFA appreciates the House for taking the lead almost a year ago to provide a voluntary, national biotech labeling solution,” said NGFA President Randy Gordon. “With all things being equal, we would have preferred the House’s prudent approach. But now, the choice is between the Senate-passed bill, the Vermont law or further delay and uncertainty, and of those, the Senate bill is by far the preferable option. The supply chain that provides the most abundant and affordable food supply the world has ever seen needs certainty on this issue, which makes it vitally important to enact a solution as quickly as possible that does not misinform consumers or denigrate crop technology and innovations that time and time again have been scientifically proven to be safe for consumers and the environment.”

The AFBF and ASA, while acknowledging the bill’s imperfections, said the bill’s passage would avoid labeling confusion and provide consumers with information they need.

“The Senate has voted to move us one step closer to a uniform, national plan that will provide consumers easy access to information about genetically modified food. This bill is not perfect, but it would avoid the chaos of 50 different state laws and a confusing array of labels for ingredients scientifically proven safe. Now that the Senate has done its job, we ask the House to move swiftly so this needed legislation can be delivered to the president for his signature,” the AFBF said in a statement.

 “We believe that the bill … provides consumers the information they need without stigmatizing a safe and sustainable food technology, and we encourage the House to move quickly to approve this carefully crafted compromise. There is too much at stake in the marketplace to let the consequences of the Vermont law linger any longer,” said the American Soybean Association. “While the Senate bill isn’t perfect, it’s the best legislation that can become law. A perfect bill that can’t pass won’t accomplish anything for the nation’s farmers or the nation’s consumers.”