United States Senate Agriculture Committee leaders and industry stakeholders have reached agreement on their version of legislation addressing labeling products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As previously mentioned, the Vermont GMO mandatory labeling law went into effect on July 1. Even though today only a few produce varieties have been genetically engineered (GE), the eleventh-hour agreement, combined with Vermont officials’ statements deferring enforcement of the law, provides a potential path to avoid further concerns about a state-by-state patchwork of differing rules.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reached an agreement that has three primary components: 1) federal preemption of the Vermont law (and any future attempts by other states), 2) options for providing required consumer information on GMO ingredients, and 3) exemptions for animals and animal products from being labeled based solely on whether the animals’ feed may have contained GMO products. On July 7, the U.S. Senate passed the agreement, clearing the way for House consideration of the measure.
Regarding GMO products, in late May, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released a long- awaited report on the impact of GE crops on public health and the economy. Dr. Bob Whitaker, PMA’s chief science & technology officer, participated as an industry expert on the NAS panel that penned the report. According to the report, current GE crop traits do not pose a threat to human health or to the environment. Without taking a specific stance on how the labeling could be carried out, the report did identify potential benefits of GMO labeling in addressing the societal concerns of some. However, during the briefing the panel highlighted the voluntary use of labeling for non-GMO marketing purposes.
The report is the result of a multiyear study into the agricultural, economic and social effects of GE crops. “Emerging genetic technologies have blurred the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding to the point where regulatory systems based on process are technically difficult to defend,” the report reads. It recommended that regulators test all new plant varieties created through traditional or biotechnological breeding techniques if they have unique traits that pose a potential hazard – human health and environmental risk.