New bipartisan life has been breathed into the national GMO labeling debate, but many are left wondering what it could include.
The House has been busy in evaluating the technology advances in agriculture and has held three previous hearings over the past year on the topic featuring different stakeholders as well as government officials. Earlier this year, the full House passed legislation which would create a uniform national voluntary food labeling standard as well as set up the U.S. Department of Agriculture to oversee a certified “GMO-free” label similar to what it does for organics.
For months Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has been discussed as a potential sponsor on the Senate side for the House’s legislative response for a national GMO labeling standard. However, a Democratic co-sponsor has not surfaced for the House bill.
During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday, ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., voiced support for producing a bipartisan legislative solution before the end of the year, offering strong support that the Senate may try to move its own bipartisan bill.
Unless Congress acts this fall, Vermont is set to become the first state in the country to institute its own mandatory GMO labeling law next July, and other states have passed or are considering their own labeling mandates.
Stabenow said biotechnology has proven to be safe and beneficial and will play a major role in helping to solve the dual global challenges of climate change and global food security, but also recognized the desire by a growing number of American consumers to know more about the food they eat.
She said she plans to work on a bipartisan GMO labeling bill that offers a solution to the problem of a 50-state patchwork of regulations; a national system of disclosure and transparency for consumers who wish to know more information about their food and an approach that does not stigmatize biotechnology.
Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Susan Mayne, said during questioning that FDA supports a labeling solution that is “truthful and not misleading” several times when members questioned her on what a label should include.
Agricultural groups have been supportive of a national bill ahead of Vermont’s bill going into effect. The Grocery Manufacturers Association said they were pleased to hear of Stabenow’s commitment along with chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Hoeven to pass a bill by the end of the year and said they looked forward to working with them to get a bill adopted and signed into law.
GMA has led the fight to challenge Vermont’s state labeling law in the court process, but said it could take years until full resolution and won’t be concluded prior to Vermont’s law goes into effect in eight months.
National Corn Growers Association trade policy and biotechnology action team chair John Linder, a farmer from Edison, Ohio, said, “Congress, and only Congress, can now prevent a costly and confusing patchwork of state labeling laws from taking effect next year. The Senate must act now to avoid the negative consequences inaction will surely bring for consumers and farmers across the country.”
Randy Gordon, president of the National Grain and Feed Association, said they continue to believe a national legislative fix can be done in a way “that supports the rights of buyers and consumers to exercise choice and preferences when purchasing agricultural commodities and products, while supporting all safe agricultural cropping systems.”