Senate Aggies unveil biotechnology proposal
Jun. 27, 2016
“This bipartisan agreement is an important path forward that represents a true compromise. Since time is of the essence, we urge our colleagues to move swiftly to support this bill,” Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, said in a joint statement.
In a separate statement, Roberts called for swift approval of the legislation.
“Unless we act now, Vermont law denigrating biotechnology and causing confusion in the marketplace is the law of the land,” Roberts said. “Our marketplace—both consumers and producers—needs a national biotechnology standard to avoid chaos in interstate commerce.
“In negotiations with Ranking Member Stabenow, I fought to ensure this standard recognizes the 30-plus years of proven safety of biotechnology while ensuring consumer access to more information about their food. I urge my colleagues to support this approach. It is a far better alternative than Vermont’s law with its destructive ramifications up and down the supply chain.”
“This bipartisan bill is a win for consumers and families,” Stabenow said in her statement. "For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.
“This proposal is also a win for our nation’s farmers and food producers. Throughout this process I worked to ensure that any agreement would recognize the scientific consensus that biotechnology is safe, while also making sure consumers have the right to know what is in their food. I also wanted a bill that prevents a confusing patchwork of 50 different rules in each state. This bill achieved all of those goals, and most importantly recognizes that consumers want more information about the foods they buy.”
Key provisions of the bipartisan proposal include:
• Pre-emption: Immediately prohibits states or other entities from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered while upholding strong consumer protection laws at both the state and federal levels.
• National Uniform Standard: The U.S. Department of Agriculture establishes through rulemaking a uniform national disclosure standard for human food that is or may be bioengineered.
• Disclosure: Requires mandatory disclosure with several options, including text on package, a symbol, or a link to a website (QR code or similar technology); small food manufacturers will be allowed to use websites or telephone numbers to satisfy disclosure requirements; very small manufacturers and restaurants are exempted.
• Meat: Foods where meat, poultry, and egg products are the main ingredients are exempted. The legislation prohibits the secretary of agriculture from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed.
• Organics: Although organics have always been non-GMO, the agreement ensures organic producers can clearly display a “non-GMO” label in addition to the organic seal.
“As I have said before, I will continue to stand up for the farmers and ranchers that produce the safest and most affordable food in the world,” Roberts said. “I will not ignore the overwhelming science that has determined biotechnology to be safe, but with the implementation of Vermont’s disruptive law on the horizon, it is our duty to act. I urge my colleagues to join me.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-TX, issued a statement in response to the Senate’s recently reached deal regarding the labeling of products of biotechnology.
“I applaud the tireless efforts of Chairman Roberts to find an agreement on biotechnology labeling. It is important to note that nearly one year ago, 275 House members voted on a bill to establish a voluntary nationwide program that would give consumers access to information about their food, protect advancements in food production and innovation, and end the patchwork of state laws threatening interstate commerce. Unfortunately, due to Sen. Stabenow dragging this process out for months, Congress will not be able to act before Vermont’s mandatory labeling law goes into effect on July 1. Although the House acted in a timely manner, I have just received the text of the this agreement and will need time to review the language and the varied impacts, be they positive or negative, before stating my support or opposition.”
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN, also commented on the agreement.
“Today’s announcement brings us closer to providing clear labeling guidelines for genetically engineered crops,” Peterson said. “A patchwork of labeling laws across state lines is simply not workable and I am committed to finding a solution that balances the consumer desire for information with the scientific evidence of the safety of these crops. I will be closely reviewing this bill and listening to stakeholder input as this process moves forward.”
The National Academy of Sciences released a report in May that contributed to the strong scientific consensus that modern biotech crops are safe to eat and safe for the environment.
The statements from Congressional leadership set off a flurry of statements from various farm groups in favor of the legislation.
The National Corn Growers Association urged the Senate and House to both act as swiftly as possible to pass the legislation.
“The introduction of this solution comes at a critical time when Congress must act to restore sanity to America’s food labeling laws,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling, a farmer from Newburg, Maryland. “GMOs are perfectly safe and America’s farmers rely on this proven technology to protect our crops from insects, weeds and drought. Important food safety and labeling decisions should be made by qualified policymakers, not political activists and campaigns. Yet, despite the scientific evidence, Vermont will place into effect a costly, confusing mandatory labeling legislation, and other states will follow in rapid succession.
“It is imperative that the Senate and House both take up this issue immediately to avoid a situation in which all American consumers pay a high price and gain little actual information.”
American Soybean Association First Vice President Ron Moore signaled his group’s strong support for the legislation.
“This package has been a long time in coming, and we’re happy to see it introduced,” said Moore, a soybean farmer from Roseville, Illinois. “Soybean farmers absolutely support this bill and we call on the Senate to pass it as soon as possible.
The legislation is the product of a full year of discussions and negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, a point ASA says illustrates the bipartisan, compromise nature of the package, and cites as a key reason for the association’s support.
“We get nothing from a ceremonial effort,” Moore said. “What we need is a piece of legislation that can pass, and in today’s Congress, that means a bipartisan compromise. There are 30 soybean-growing states in the U.S.—that’s the 60 votes we need to pass the bill in the Senate. The chairman and the ranking member have a comprehensive bill that both Republicans and Democrats can support and we will call on every one of the soy-state senators to back this farmer priority.”
The National Grain and Feed Association also urged expeditious support for the legislation.
“We appreciate Sens. Roberts and Stabenow for the efforts they have made in trying to achieve bipartisan consensus on a way forward, but time is of the essence,” NGFA President Randy Gordon said. “We hope both the House and Senate can come together expeditiously to pass a national labeling standard that will prevent harmful disruptions in the nation’s supply chain.”
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said: “I am pleased to learn that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow have reached an agreement on the national biotech labeling debate. Both producers and consumers have sought a solution to this issue, and I applaud this bipartisan effort as an important step in the process.
“NFU represents the range of diversity in agricultural production, from conventional to organic and all farming practices in between, while also recognizing the important role of consumers. For months now, the Senate Agriculture Committee has worked to balance the needs of these diverse stakeholders. Despite significant hurdles, Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow put differences aside, stayed engaged, and found a solution for the benefit of agriculture.
“I thank the committee for its continued dedication to America’s family farmers and ranchers. NFU looks forward to learning more of the details and weighing them against our member-approved policy before taking a position on the deal.”
The only major farm group with a statement noting hesitancy toward backing the deal was the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“There are no—and never have been any—documented health risks from genetically engineered food in the marketplace. The American Farm Bureau Federation continues to oppose mandatory food labels that are not necessary for health or safety reasons,” the AFBF statement said. “We also oppose a patchwork of state-by-state labeling rules. We are reviewing this legislative proposal, and over the next few days will determine how it fits with our policy. We will also assess its impact on farmers’ abilities to use modern agricultural technology to produce more, high-quality food.
“We appreciate Chairman Roberts’ diligence in taking action prior to the Vermont law’s going into effect. This deal clearly seeks to prevent a 50-state mismatched quilt of differing labeling standards. But the mandatory feature holds significant potential to contribute to confusion and unnecessary alarm. Regardless of the outcome, we continue to believe a national, voluntary standard remains the best approach. Our board will deliver a decision soon.”
An example of groups opposed to the bill was the Organic Consumers Association. International Director Ronnie Cummins called the proposal “a deal that tramples on the rights of consumers and the rights of states like Vermont to protect their own citizens. Instead, the Senate appears poised to pass a bill clearly intended to serve the interests of Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
“The anti-consumer bill unveiled by Stabenow and Roberts, bought and paid for by Big Food corporations, nullifies Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law and replaces it with a law that replaces the requirement for clear, on package labels, with a convoluted, inconvenient and discriminatory scheme involving barcodes and 1-800 numbers.
“The proposed bill also gives food corporations another two years before they are even required to pretend to provide consumers with any information at all about the GMO ingredients in their products. Stabenow and Roberts are determined to preempt Vermont’s law, even though major food corporations such as General Mills, Campbell’s, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Mars, Kellogg’s, and ConAgra are already labeling, to comply with Vermont’s July 1 deadline for labeling.
“This pandering to industry is inexcusable, especially when consumers in 64 other countries have the right to know whether or not their food contains GMOs. We will enlist our more than two million supporters to help us keep this bill from getting the required 60 votes in the Senate, and if we have to, we will take this battle all the way to the Oval Office, and if necessary, launch a national boycott of all foods that are not organic, grass-fed or labeled non-GMO.”
The legislation is expected to be voted upon shortly after Congress returns from its Independence Day holiday on July 5.
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