The US Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry had an oversight hearing on Wednesday to discuss the genetic modification of feed and food crops and possible federal regulation.
The group heard from representatives from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with all the agencies endorsing the safety of the approved GM crops in the US marketplace and the GM product regulatory review system.
While the main thrust of the meeting was biotechnology in agriculture, much of the discussion centered on GM labeling.
A bill on that subject has already passed the US House of Representatives, but has yet to pass the US Senate. If approved, several supporting entities said it would help forestall a patchwork of state-level labeling laws.
The first such state law, which requires the labeling of GMO products, was passed in Vermont in May and is set to take effect in July of 2016.
National standard v patchwork of labelling laws
The groups calling for the bill’s passage include the National Feed and Grain Association (NFGA), the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the National Corn Growers Association.
Officials with all three groups said that having a plethora of different state laws and regulations would add complications and cost to the food supply.
“A national standard that provides for voluntary labeling – both for those wishing to label that their products are GMO free or contain GMOs – as opposed to varying mandatory GMO-only labeling schemes in different states would prevent food and feed manufacturers from having to meet a confusing patchwork of different state or local laws,” said Randy Gordon, NGFA president.
“Further, it would impose the costs of such a voluntary labeling approach onto those companies that choose to label, rather than forcing those costs across all companies and all consumers, even those who don’t care if the products they buy or consume bear such labels.”
Mandatory labeling also is used to provide information relating to a product’s health or safety information, and the safety of GMO products is not in question, said Patrick Delaney, communications director with ASA. “Putting the label on almost implies that something is wrong with it,” he added.
Additionally, labeling all products that contain GMO ingredients would be more difficult than identifying products that don’t, he said. “If you want to label something, label for the exception not the rule,” he told FeedNavigator.
Multiple state laws would mean that food and feed manufacturers would need different supply chains, production and ingredient sourcing depending on where products were going, said Gordon.
The national bill also would provide for a unified non-GMO certification program, he said.
“The voluntary non-GMO certification program included in the House-passed bill would provide a mechanism for food and feed manufacturers and consumers to know they are getting non-GMO products that meet national, standard requirements,” he said.