Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, introduced proposed legislation last week that would set up a federal voluntary GMO labeling system, which would also pre-empt state laws that would require GMO labeling.

The new bill would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 by requiring the Secretary of Agriculture to create a national voluntary GMO labeling standard. The legislation will establish a national framework that places standards in the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and creates a campaign that will educate the public on both the safety of GMOs and on the way in which they can find out more about the foods they purchase.

The legislation comes as the agriculture industry is under a sense of urgency created by the July 1, 2016, effective date of Vermont's mandatory law requiring on-package labels of foods containing ingredients that have been genetically modified. It is believed that congressional action is needed to avert major supply chain disruptions and inefficiencies in production, storage, transportation, manufacturing and distribution of food and feed that would translate into significant cost increases for consumers.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to mark-up the proposal Thursday, Feb. 25. Click here to read the bill.

Multiple agricultural groups praised and welcomed news of the proposed legislation. Read some of the favorable reactions.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA issued the following statement from Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO.

“We thank Senator Roberts for introducing this proposal and for his continued leadership to resolve an issue vitally important to people across the country. We also greatly appreciate the Chairman quickly scheduling a mark-up so that the full committee can consider this proposal in a timely manner.

“This common-sense solution will provide consumers with more information about ingredients in their food and beverage products and prevent a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates.  We urge senators to stand up for working families, farmers and food producers and give this proposal the bipartisan support that it deserves.

“With Vermont’s mandatory labeling going into effect in July and other states considering their own laws, Congress must pass a national food labeling solution that offers farmers, families and food producers the certainty and access to the affordable and sustainable food supply they deserve.

“Time is running out, and consumers will ultimately pay the price of delay and inaction, as multiple studies have found that state mandatory GMO labeling laws will increase a family’s annual grocery bills by hundreds of dollars.

“We look forward to working with Chairman Roberts andranking minority member Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on advancing bipartisan legislation quickly for a vote by the full Senateand then have the legislation voted on by the House as soon as possible.”

 

"We commend Sen. Roberts and his staff, as well as other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee for the extraordinary efforts they have made in trying to achieve bipartisan consensus on a way forward, but time is of the essence," said National Grain and Feed Association President Randy Gordon. "We hope the significant step taken today by Sen. Roberts will galvanize congressional efforts to get federal preemption legislation on biotech labeling enacted. The time for action is at hand."

“We are out of time, and Congress needs to quickly take action on a uniform, national standard for labeling foods containing GMO ingredients. Chairman Roberts’ proposal is a welcome and encouraging event for farmer co-ops and their producer-owners who otherwise will be forced to alter their production methods and segregate their supply chains in order to comply with Vermont’s labeling mandate,” said the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner.

“The introduction of Roberts’s proposal is an important first step to restoring sanity to America’s food labeling laws,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling, a farmer from 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 the scientists and qualified policymakers at the FDA, not political activists and campaigns. Yet, despite the scientific evidence, states such as Vermont are quickly moving toward costly, confusing mandatory labeling legislation. It is imperative that the Senate takes up this issue quickly to avoid a situation in which all American consumers pay a high price and gain little actual information.”

“We’ve heard repeatedly that Americans want more information on what’s in their food, and we are invested in providing that information to them. Chairman Roberts’ bill is one that moves the food production industry in a direction of greater transparency, while at the same time protecting farmers’ ability to use what science has repeatedly proven to be a safe and sustainable technology,” said American Soybean Association President Richard Wilkins, a farmer from Greenwood, Del.

“We want consumers to know more about food and farming, but that information needs to be truthful and conveyed in a way that doesn’t stigmatize beneficial farming methods such as biotechnology,” said Brian Baenig, Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s executive vice president of Food & Agriculture.  “Tools such as the SmartLabel, QR codes, 1-800 numbers and other educational resources can deliver an abundance of information about food ingredients, nutrition, allergens, product usage, brand information and more.”