A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a bill that would block state labeling requirements for genetically modified foods.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 14-6 to prevent the labeling on packages of foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Vermont is set to require such labels this summer, and other states are considering similar laws.
Senators have said they want to find a compromise on the labeling issue before Vermont's law kicks in. Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the panel, said a patchwork of state laws could be costly for agriculture, food companies and ultimately consumers.
"Now is not the time for Congress to make food more expensive for anybody," Roberts said.
The bill would create voluntary labels for companies that want to use them on food packages that contain genetically modified ingredients.
Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country's corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil.
The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients.
While the Food and Drug Administration says there is little scientific concern about the safety of those GMOs on the market, advocates for labeling say not enough is known about their risks
The legislation approved Tuesday is similar to a bill the House passed last year. The food industry has backed both bills, saying GMOs are safe.
Labeling advocates have been fighting state-by-state to enact the labeling, with the eventual goal of a national standard.
Passage won't be as easy in the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome a certain filibuster.