The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on labels for genetically modified foods Wednesday, but a yes vote could actually be bad news for the health-conscious who want to avoid engineered fruits and vegetables.

The bill would create voluntary national standards for labeling genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs, but that requirement could hurt state-level efforts to require that the labels are placed on foods. Under the proposed law, states like Vermont, which is slated to become the first state in the country to require the labels, would not be able to force food companies to divulge a product's GMO status.

The bill has support from most Republicans in the Senate, though it may be blocked by Democrats, many of whom prefer a mandatory labeling standard that designates the GMO status of food with something like a simple symbol.

“Voluntary standards are no standards at all,” Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, told the New York Times. Tester is an organic farmer and is one of many Democrats who may band together to kill Wednesday’s bill. “We need to defeat this bill,” he said. “This is bad, bad, bad, policy.”


Consumer advocacy groups have joined Democrats like Tester in their opposition to the legislation, which would pre-empt state law. Consumers Union wrote in an open letter that the bill would simply duplicate policies in place that allow for voluntary GMO labeling while hurting states’ rights. The group has supported mandatory laws in states like Vermont, according to the Hill.

“Americans have repeatedly made it clear that they want mandatory GMO labeling, with about 90 percent in support. Vermont's GMO labeling law was a direct response to this consumer call,” Jean Halloran, the group’s director of food policy initiatives, said in a statement about a mandatory state labeling law.

Some have noted that the bill appears to be a reiteration of a different, industry-backed bill that was passed in the House last year.