Senate Committee Meets to Discuss National Standards

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On October 21st, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing on Agriculture Biotechnology: A Look at Federal Regulation and Stakeholder Perspectives.

Based on comments by ranking Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow, it appears she is trying to negotiate a compromise bill and hopes to have the legislation passed by the Senate before the end of the year. “I share the concern about the difficulty in doing business across our country if 50 different states have 50 different standards and requirements,” said Stabenow. One of her goals is to have a bill that would provide, “a national system of disclosure and transparency” that “does not stigmatize biotechnology.”

The food industry is pushing for a national bill because a Vermont labeling bill takes effect in July 2016.

The first panel included representatives from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The primary message of federal regulators is that biotech foods are safe.

The second panel featured speakers in favor of GMO products, including:

• A dairy producer from Vermont who said they need biotech feed for their livestock.

• The Senior Vice President from Herr Foods in Pennsylvania who said the labeling requirements were onerous for a mid-size company and he cannot access the GMO-free crops that he needs.

•A medical doctor from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston who said GMO products are medically safe.

Those in support of GMO labeling included:

• The Director of Biotechnology at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who advocated for improvements in the federal oversight of genetically engineered crops to ensure safety to humans, animals, the environment, and agriculture. His comments touched on roles for the FDA, EPA and USDA.

• Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm and Chairman of the Just Label It campaign, said, “We strongly support a national GMO disclosure system that provides factual information. We do not support a warning or a disclosure system that renders a judgment on GMOs and are certainly not seeking a ban on GMO crops. Rather, we support a value-neutral disclosure that respects the right of consumers to make their own choices.”

Review witness testimony and watch a video of the hearing.

Contact your Senator to give your views on the labeling of GMOs.