March 1, 2016
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 14-6 on March 1 to support Chairman Pat Roberts biotechnology labeling bill.
“Simply put, the legislation before us provides an immediate and comprehensive solution to the state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws,” Roberts said in a media statement. “It sets national uniformity, based on science, for labeling food or seeds that are genetically engineered.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member on the committee, said in her opening remarks that there are areas of bipartisan agreement in the bill, but the bill doesn’t address consumer demand.
“As I have said from the beginning of this process: for a solution, which includes a 50 state preemption, to receive the broad support necessary to pass the Senate; it must contain a pathway to a national system of mandatory disclosure that provides consumers the information they need and want to make informed choices,” Stabenow said.
Sen. Roberts' GMO labeling proposal passes ag committee. (Photo: Jupiter Images/Thinkstock)
Roberts’ Chairmans’ Mark on Biotechnology Labeling Solutions amends the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered foods.
-Applies to any claim in the labeling of food that indicates the food is bioengineered or contains bioengineered ingredients.
-Directs the agriculture secretary to establish a national voluntary bioengineered food labeling standard within two years of the date of enactment.
-Prohibits any claims be made about food safety based on upon whether or not the food contains bioengineered ingredients.
-Prohibits any state laws that are not consistent with the national standard.
-Requires an outreach and education campaign to address consumer acceptance of agricultural biotechnology.
-Requires a report, within four years, on the availability of information on whether or not a food is bioengineered.
Roberts said his legislation has the support of more than 650 farmers, cooperatives, agribusinesses, processors, seed makers, handlers, food and feed manufacturers, lenders and retailers.
"We appreciate and commend Chairman Roberts for his strong leadership and tireless work to seek a bipartisan national solution to this issue, and the willingness of Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow to continue her efforts to try to reach a consensus approach as the bill moves forward to floor consideration," said Randy Gordon, president of the National Grain and Feed Association.
What supporters of the legislation are saying:
“Farm Bureau believes in meaningful disclosure that serves to inform and educate consumers on the innovative technologies farmers and ranchers use to provide food for this nation and our customers around the world,” said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president, in a media statement. “We support Chairman Roberts’ bill without hesitation, we appreciate the bipartisan support shown by the committee, and we look forward to swift passage by the Senate. We stand ready to work with Senate and House leaders to finalize this important legislation and secure the president’s signature.”
Related story: House approves voluntary labeling standard
"We hope the significant step taken today will galvanize congressional efforts to get federal preemption legislation on biotech labeling enacted expeditiously," Gordon said.
The urgency to act comes from a Vermont labeling law set to take effect July 1. Supporters of Roberts’ legislation say a patchwork of state laws will increase costs for consumers because of increased labeling costs.
Related story: Study costs families $50 to $1,050 per year.
Food labeling “is an area where we need a clear federal standard, not a piecemeal approach across the 50 states,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. “We’ve learned from experience in the dairy sector that we need a strong federal policy governing labeling claims. Otherwise, we’ll end up with an unworkable series of competing and confusing state policies.”
“We couldn’t be happier with today’s vote and have full confidence that the full Senate will soon pass this legislation. We see no major road bumps that will slow the momentum at our backs,” said Claire Parker, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. “The House and Senate Agriculture Committees, as well as the full House of Representatives, have now supported a uniform, national labeling standard in bipartisan fashion. We have every reason to believe the full Senate will soon do so as well and a bill will be on the President’s desk within weeks.”
What opponents of the legislation, who refer to the bill as the Deny Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act, are saying:
“The version of the DARK Act that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee today would rob Americans of their right to know what’s in their food,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “Nine out of ten Americans want the same rights as consumers in Russia, China and more than 60 other nations that require mandatory GMO labeling.
"We remain hopeful that the Senate will craft a national, mandatory GMO labeling system that provides consumers with basic factual information about their food,” he said.
Common Dreams: Right-to-know fight heats up as DARK Act advances
The Hill: Senate panels advances bill blocking state GMO labeling rules - The bill comes amid a heated fight between consumer groups who want more information about so-called GMO foods and the food industry.
Politico: Roberts committed to blocking GMO 'wrecking ball' - The Kansas Republican has remained stalwart in his pursuit of the legislation.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Senate committee approves bill barring states from requiring GMO labeling - Passage in the Senate won't be as easy as in the House.
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