by Ken Root LISTEN: Agribusiness Matters 6-24-16
Finally, at the deadline, a bi-partisan agreement on Genetically Modified Food Labeling. It would pre-empt state laws and not go into effect for two years.
Both Agri-Pulse and The Hagstrom Report had stories out by mid afternoon on Thursday, heralding an agreement on GM Food Labeling.
After months of negotiations, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., released a bill to require mandatory labeling of most foods with genetically modified ingredients but with labeling options.
The law would preempt state labeling laws, but gives the Agriculture secretary two years to develop the labeling standards and regime.
The bill offers companies a choice of providing consumers with an on-package label, a symbol or an scannable electronic label directing telling the consumer how to scan it for “more food information.” But if there is an electronic label, it must take consumers directly to GMO information.
The bill does not require labeling of meat from animals that have eaten genetically modified feed, and products that are mostly meat do not have to be labeled.
Stabenow noted that the agreement ensures that organic producers can clearly display a “non-GMO” label in addition to the USDA organic seal.
“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,” she said.
The bill amends the 1946 Agricultural Marketing Act and requires the Agriculture secretary “to establish a national disclosure standard for bioengineered foods.” It gives small firms an additional year to comply with the labeling.
It will be impossible for Congress to enact the bill before a Vermont labeling law goes into effect on July 1 because the House has left until July 5.
The Vermont law has a six-month grace period before companies would have to pay fines if the state finds that they have not labeled products properly.
But the bill’s path is still unclear. The lengthy period for USDA to develop the program and the electronic labeling alternative may lead some pro-labeling advocates to criticize it.
Heritage Action, the conservative group that scores votes, has also come out against mandatory labeling, but one labeling advocate said that House members are so angry with Heritage Action’s constant attention to agricultural issues that they may ignore its views.
Groups on both sides of the labeling battle said they would not comment until they have seen the legislation.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who voted for a Roberts labeling bill that failed but has said she was still worried about consumers concerns, praised Roberts and Stabenow for their compromise
“After working on this deal for months, I’m proud our efforts have produced a bipartisan compromise to give farmers and ranchers certainty, and give consumers the information they want about their food,” said Heitkamp.
“Critically, this deal guarantees that any labeling doesn’t stigmatize biotech food, which is safe and helps North Dakota farmers put food on the table for families in North Dakota, the United States, and the world. When the committee began working on this legislation earlier this year, I promised to strengthen it so that consumers know what’s in their food, without creating unnecessary hurdles for producers. The compromise accomplishes those goals and I’m hopeful Congress can pass it quickly.”