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US Senate Reaches Deal on GMO Labels

FILE - Employees stock shelves near a sign supporting non-genetically modified food at the Central Co-op in Seattle, Washington, Oct. 29, 2013.

The U.S. Senate has reached a deal on labeling foods that have genetically modified ingredients, just a week before a harsher GMO (genetically modified organism) law is to go into effect in the northeastern state of Vermont.

The federal legislation cannot be approved by the House of Representatives until after members return from their summer recess July 5. But if passed, the law would supersede Vermont's law, establishing a rule that is easier for food companies to meet.

Vermont companies have a year to comply with the new state law that takes effect July 1. The year's grace period means a federal law could take effect before companies have to change their packaging in Vermont.

The Vermont law, applicable only to products sold in that state, would require producers to label foods with genetically modified ingredients with the words "produced with" or "partially produced with" GMOs.

The federal law, which supporters say would prevent a confusing patchwork of state laws, would allow food producers to use words, a federally produced symbol, or a bar code or telephone number that provides a link to the information.

Critics of the federal legislation say it limits accessibility to the information by not placing it directly on the label. They say some people will not follow up on an electronic link and therefore might miss the information.

Food products can be genetically modified to make them more resistant to disease or to produce more food. Most of the corn and soybean crop produced in the United States is genetically modified. Federal authorities have ruled the practice is safe, but skeptics say eating genetically modified products could have consequences that are not yet known.

Foods labeled "organic" in the United States are required to be GMO-free, or have only a tiny percentage of GMO product in them — enabling consumers to maintain a GMO-free diet if they wish.