The bill was sponsored by Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the US Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and seeks to establish federal guidelines for the voluntary labeling of products that contain GMO, or bioengineered, ingredients.
A previous federal bill brought by Representative Mike Pompeo on the topic passed the US House of Representatives but has not been taken up in the Senate.
The proposed bill was lauded by several groups including the National Grain and Feed Association, (NGFA) and the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).
“We hope the significant step taken today by Sen. Roberts will galvanize congressional efforts to get federal preemption legislation on biotech labeling enacted,” said Randy Gordon, NGFA president. “The time for action is at hand.”
The groups are pushing for the federal guidance before a state-level reporting bill takes effect in Vermont, said NGFA officials. That law mandates labeling all food products containing bioengineered ingredients and, unless preempted, starts on July 1.
“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,” they said.
The AFIA also supports the bill because, if passed, it would establish one labeling standard rather than allowing for differing requirements in multiple states, said officials.
“Although animal food is exempt from Vermont’s law, our industry supports a uniform, national labeling standard for products containing genetically modified ingredients,” said Leah Wilkinson, AFIA vice president of legislative, regulatory and state affairs. “If Congress implements a national law requiring a uniformed standard like what is contained in this bill, the food industry, animal food industry, farmers and consumers will share equal protection from unnecessary costs and different state mandated labeling requirements.”
The new bill would offer an outlet for consumers seeking more information, without adding costs to the labeling process, said NGFA officials.
“If states create different labeling rules, food and feed manufacturers would be forced to either not serve that market or transfer the heavy costs of compliance to consumers,” said NGFA’s Gordon. “A national standard also would avoid the potential for labels to have different meanings in different states, which would lead to even greater costs and further confuse consumers.”
Within two years of being adopted, the bill states that the secretary of agriculture would establish a voluntary, national labeling standard for bioengineered foods or foods that contain engineered ingredients, and other purposes, said committee officials.
There should be no claims that a food is, or is, not safer or of different quality because it has been, or does not have, bioengineered ingredients, they said. And, no state would be allowed to develop rules that differ from the standard created.
Additionally, information and education should be provided, they said. “The secretary, in coordination with other federal agencies as appropriate, shall provide science-based information, including any information on the environmental, nutritional, economic, and humanitarian benefits of agricultural biotechnology, through education, outreach, and promotion to address consumer acceptance of agricultural biotechnology,” they added.