The Senate is beginning to debate a bill that seeks to create a voluntary, national food-labeling standard for foods containing genetically modified ingredients.

Submitted by Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the proposal already has strong bipartisan support and support from the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).

"The Senate needs to move quickly to ensure an unworkable patchwork of state laws does not go into effect, while providing consumers additional information on the foods they buy," said AFIA President and CEO Joel G. Newman.

"AFIA respectfully urges the Senate to support cloture for the Roberts' substitute and to support passage of the substitute language. We also urge opposition to any amendment intended to derail or delay this important legislation, or which seeks to impose federal labeling of any food containing genetically engineered ingredients,” Newman said.

Roberts’ proposal provides a federal solution to a developing patchwork of state laws on biotechnology labeling. To ensure consumers have multiple ways to access information about how food is grown, a mandatory labeling program would go into effect only if the voluntary program does not provide significant information after several years. Food companies would then have time to utilize a variety of options to disclose information directly to consumers.

"AFIA supports a uniform, science-based federal labeling standard, unlike the Vermont law that requires food for humans containing genetically engineered ingredients to display front-of-package labels," Newman added.

Votes on the legislation are expected as early as March 16.