WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2015 - With chances for a year-end deal on GMO labeling dwindling, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee said it would be a top priority early next year. But the industry was mounting an advertising campaign aimed at salvaging the legislation before Congress breaks for the year. 

“I think it will be the first thing we have to work on in January,” Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told Agri-Pulse on Thursday.

Food-makers and agriculture interests are desperate for Congress to block a Vermont GMO labeling law from taking effect in July. However, negotiations on federal legislation bogged down over what Stabenow described as a disagreement over whether electronic disclosure of biotech ingredients should be mandatory.

The industry has been lobbying for Congress to use a year-end spending bill to enact a temporary provision that would preempt state labeling laws for two years. To keep pressure on lawmakers, a food and agriculture industry’s Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food released a television ad in the Washington area featuring a farmer who grows genetically engineered crops. The ad ends with him delivering the message, “Let’s get it done.”

But even the short-term preemption is “very difficult” to pass because of resistance from colleagues, Stabenow said.

“I’m committed to fixing this. A 50-state patchwork (of labeling laws) does not work,” she said. 

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, has emerged as the chief roadblock to a preemption bill. Earlier this week, Merkley said he told Senate leaders he would oppose even the temporary measure. Another Senate opponent of preemption, Jon Tester, D-Mont., is an organic farmer.

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Time is fast running out for any as-yet-unsettled issue to get included in the omnibus spending bill. The Senate approved a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through Wednesday. The existing funding authorization expires Friday.

Stabenow announced at a Senate Agriculture hearing in October that she wanted to pass a biotech labeling bill by December.

“I’m spending a tremendous amount of work on” the issue,  she said Thursday. “I’m the only one who’s working with colleagues and trying to work out something. I’ve spent more hours on this personally than anything else I’ve done this year. 

“What I see, unfortunately, is a very large gulf still.”