GMO compromise food labeling bill introduced

Agricultural support for a compromise national standard in labeling foods containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), as outlined in a U.S. Senate bill introduced Thursday, is widespread.

The American Soybean Association (ASA) was one of the first organizations that gave its strong support for the GMO labeling legislation from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Most soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered and endorsement by ASA indicates its members aren't concerned about label language as outlined in the bill.

The bill would establish a national standard of mandatory disclosure through a variety of options, including quick-response (QR) codes, 800-numbers, websites and on-pack labeling, such that companies would be able to select the method of disclosure that works best for their products.

"This package has been a long time in coming, and we're happy to see it introduced today (6/23)," said ASA First Vice President Ron Moore, a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill. "Soybean farmers absolutely support this bill and we call on the Senate to pass it as soon as possible."

Although not fully endorsing the Senate bill, House Agriculture Ranking Member Collin Peterson (R-Minn.) said, "Today's announcement brings us closer to providing clear labeling guidelines for genetically engineered crops. A patchwork of labeling laws across state lines is simply not workable, and I am committed to finding a solution that balances the consumer desire for information with the scientific evidence of the safety of these crops. I will be closely reviewing this fill and listening to stakeholder input as this process moves forward."

The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives sees the Senate bill as a solution to GMO food labeling, which results in a win for consumers and farmers. NCFC President Chuck Conner noted the beginning of individual states enforcing their own rules has finally forced the hand of Congress.

"This agreement is now more important than ever since the July 1 deadline for the Vermont labeling law is now a week away. By acting now, the chaos caused by a patchwork of labeling laws and an increase in costs associated with that can be largely avoided," Conner said.

"The work put in over the past year by Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow has yielded a piece of legislation that gives consumers the information they want and need, yet doesn't drive a proven-safe technology from the marketplace through the stigmatization that comes with language that could be perceived as a warning label," said ASA's Moore.

It has been a concern across agriculture that the nation's farmers not have their food crops stigmatized with explicitly negative product labeling language.

"We've seen time and time again that regardless of the repeated proven safety of GMOs, consumers react negatively when presented with a product containing a warning label," said Moore. "If consumers panic and run from these products based on false stigmatization, companies are forced to reformulate away from this safe and affordable technology. Not only would this result in food more expensive for consumers, but prices for soybean producers would fall sharply."

This bill is an attempt for compromise between those anti-GMO groups and those staunchly supportive of GMO crops and seeing no reason for GMO labeling. The bill was slow to arrive following extended negotiations among Democrats and Republications. ASA says the bill illustrates a bipartisan compromise that deserves the association's support.

"We get nothing from a ceremonial effort," said Moore. "What we need is a piece of legislation that can pass, and in today's Congress, that means a bipartisan compromise. There are 30 soybean-growing states in the U.S.—that's the 60 votes we need to pass the bill in the Senate. The chairman and the ranking member have a comprehensive bill that both Republicans and Democrats can support, and we will call on every one of the soy-state Senators to back this farmer priority."