There are signs of life on both sides of the Capitol for an effort to stop states from requiring labeling of biotech foods. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is preparing to move a bill in coming weeks, and a companion version is now in the works in the Senate, Agri-Pulse has learned.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he wants to get support from Democrats and the Obama administration before introducing the Senate bill, but he didn’t rule out having it ready before the Memorial Day recess begins on May 22. “We really are trying to get something that is a good thoughtful start that people will get involved with in a bipartisan way,” he said.
Hoeven is working with USDA as well as commodity groups and the food industry on the legislation, he said. “I’m trying to come up with something that’s workable.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week told the Grocery Manufacturers Association that the department would offer assistance in developing a labeling bill.
The chairman of the House committee, Fred Upton, R-Mich., said he plans to hold a hearing and then start moving the House version (HR 1599) through subcommittee and full committee. But Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, who would have jurisdiction over Hoeven’s bill doesn’t appear eager to take up the issue.
Asked what his plans, Roberts, R-Kan., ticked off a list of bills that the committee already has on its to-do list. “We have a whole series of bills — CFTC, Federal Grain Inspection Service, child nutrition — all of these things that are on page 13 of anybody’s newspaper, or farther, but they have to be done,” Roberts said. The law authorizing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has already expired and laws authorizing the grain inspection program, child nutrition standards and mandatory price reporting are all set to expire Sept. 30.
Roberts went on, “If you’re going to pick a controversial bill, you might as well pick GMO, and I’m not sure where we are on that. I sympathize with the effort.”
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told Agri-Pulse in an Open Mic interview that she has concerns that the definitions in the House bill, sponsored by Mike Pompeo, R-Calif., “aren’t necessarily based on sound science.” She didn’t elaborate.
Pompeo has 37 cosponsors for his bill, including 10 Democrats.
Under the House bill, no labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients could be required unless there is a “material difference” between the biotech ingredient and its conventionally bred version. The legislation details rules for a premarket approval process run by the Food and Drug Administration for new biotech ingredients. The bill also would set up a USDA-run certification process run for foods that are labeled as non-GMO.