Opinion: Make no mistake: The bank lobby wants to kill farm credit (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

A highly curious statement was made at last week’s U.S. Senate hearing on the Farm Credit System. Leonard Wolfe, the CEO of a community bank in Kansas and one of the bank lobby’s chief spokesmen on farm lending issues, denied in testimony to Congress that the banking industry wants to kill the Farm Credit System.

“There’s a real misconception that banks want to eliminate the Farm Credit System,” Wolfe said. “That’s not correct, I’m not an advocate of that. We have to coexist; we have to find a way to do that.”

Why is that so curious? Because for years, both the American Bankers Association (ABA) and the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) have been doing everything in their power to undercut Farm Credit in the halls of Congress. And they both have gone on record over the past year advocating that Farm Credit be abolished.

Last year, for instance, then ABA President & CEO Frank Keating did a recorded media interview in which he explicitly called for Farm Credit to be eliminated. “To have the Farm Credit System, an ossified anachronism, still in existence just makes no sense whatsoever,” Keating proclaimed. “It’s time we have the debate [in Congress], which we are, and the next step of course is not just to have the debate but actually get rid of the Farm Credit System.”

Mr. Wolfe, in his own testimony last week, called for an “autopsy” of Farm Credit. That sure sounded like he wanted to kill Farm Credit.

Meanwhile, over at the ICBA web site, a list of policy priorities for 2016 includes the following: “ICBA urges Congress to either abolish the FCS, or at a minimum restrict the FCS to its historical mission of serving the agricultural marketplace.”

The customer-owners of the Farm Credit System include over 525,000 farmers, ranchers, cooperatives and other rural borrowers across the country. They rely on Farm Credit every day for loans and other financial services that help their businesses succeed and their communities stay viable. As customer-owners of Farm Credit institutions, they have a direct say in how their institution accomplishes its mission to support rural communities and agriculture. And because they are owners, they know that Farm Credit will be there to meet their needs in good times and bad. How much comfort, really, can they take in Leonard Wolfe’s pronouncements about coexisting? Should they believe him, or the ABA and ICBA’s official public statements to the contrary?

As CEO of the Farm Credit Council, I would like to go on record once again that we believe rural America needs a robust community banking sector. Some 54 agricultural and rural groups believe that as well and just sent a letter to Congress expressing their desire to stand “firmly in support of the Farm Credit System” and adding their view that “the Farm Credit System and commercial banks play critical roles in ensuring that farmers, ranchers and other rural Americans have access to constructive, competitive credit on an ongoing basis.”

Farm prices are down and many U.S. producers are barely breaking even or worse. This is a time for community bankers to think more about helping their customers and less about attacking Farm Credit. Rural communities and agriculture benefit tremendously when Farm Credit institutions and commercial banks compete with each other, not only on pricing for loans but in customer service as well. Doing away with the Farm Credit System, which collectively has over $240 billion in loans outstanding and provides some 40 percent of all agricultural loans, would be an unmitigated disaster for rural America.

If Mr. Wolfe is sincere in his statements – if he and his fellow community banking executives truly do want to find a way to peacefully and productively coexist with Farm Credit – then we call on them to stop talking about “autopsy” and rein in the irresponsible actions and misleading rhetoric of their trade associations. Farm Credit stands ready to continue working with community banks for the benefit of rural America. But it will be much easier to do so when their lobbyists stop agitating for Farm Credit’s demise.

Todd Van Hoose is President & CEO of the Farm Credit Council, the trade association for the Farm Credit System in Washington, D.C.

Whatever Happened to Advanced Biofuels? (via Scientific American)

The Project Liberty plant is a multi–$100-million effort to get ethanol for cars past the obstacles of food-versus-fuel debates, farmer recalcitrance and, ultimately, fossil fuels. It is also the fruition of a 16-year journey for founder and executive chairman Jeff Broin of ethanol-producing company POET—an odyssey that began with a pilot plant in Scotland, S.D., and progressed through a grant of $105 million from taxpayers via the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).

The government invested because of hopes that such advanced biofuels could reduce global warming pollution from vehicles compared with gasoline. And making ethanol from inedible parts of corn plants is perhaps better than using the edible starch in corn kernels that could find use as food or feed for animals. “We’re processing about 770 tons a day of corn stover—basically the leftovers from the cornfield—into ethanol,” Broin told me during a tour of POET’s new Project Liberty facility, which makes ethanol from cellulose and is located next to a traditional facility that produces the fuel from the starch in corn kernels. “[It’s] one of the first plants in the world to do that, so we’re pretty excited.”

The ability to make fuel from corn stover is the result of nearly two years of tinkering since the plant officially opened in September 2014. And Project Liberty is one of the culminations of an American effort to break oil’s monopoly on transportation fuels in favor of domestically grown biofuels. Most recently, the U.S. Congress mandated that a certain percentage of the fuels used in U.S. vehicles come from biofuels under the terms of the Renewable Fuel Standard federal program, which came into effect in 2005 and mandates the development of biofuels. The RFS put a particular focus on biofuels that do not come from food, as traditional corn ethanol comes from starch that can serve as food or animal feed. The great hope was for cleaner, greener ethanol to be made from cellulose, the inedible plant fiber in the corn leaves, stalks, husks and cobs.

Getting Project Liberty up and running has already required an investment of at least $275 million from POET and its Dutch partner Royal DSM, including grants from the DoE and the state of Iowa. Assuming the kinks are now ironed out, the plant could use some 260,000 metric tons of the nonedible parts of corn plants to produce as much as 95 million liters of cellulosic ethanol each year. Already bales of stover sprawl around the new facility, waiting to be consumed by an industrial process—instead of by mushrooms.

Project Liberty basically industrializes what fungi growth and other decay processes accomplish naturally to release the solar energy stored up by green plants. The corn stover is first freed from its baling and shredded.

The strips of corn leaves and chunks of corncob are then bathed in sulfuric acid to begin breaking them down into fibers. Enzymes—biological proteins freed from their living hosts to do industrial work—eat into those fibers further, and the resulting sour soup is processed to remove water.

This mash, which looks like mud, then goes into giant fermentation vats where specialty yeast eats the sugars in it to produce ethanol.

At this point, the mud still contains leftover fibers, particularly lignin—the tough strands that allow cornstalks or trees to stand tall and resist decay while living—which becomes an industrial fuel for the facility’s boiler after being pressed into coal-like cakes.

And the rest of the leftovers are fed into one of the nation’s largest biodigesters—reactors that can hold some four million liters of leftovers for anaerobic digestion—to make methane that the plant can use for power, eliminating its need for natural gas fuel. This helps reduce greenhouse gas pollution, as does the facility’s main product—a fuel fermented from plant material that pulled carbon dioxide out of the sky while growing. Burning cellulosic ethanol as a fuel could result in just 10 percent of the CO2 emissions produced by burning gasoline.

One big secret to making it all work is the advanced biofuel refinery’s location right next to a conventional corn ethanol plant, which makes ethanol from the starch in corn kernels. That facility is roughly half the size of its cellulosic fuel neighbor, costs less than half as much to build and run, and produces twice as much ethanol. It can use the leftover lignin and biodigested methane from the cellulosic facility as fuel for distillation and other processes. “We literally can shut off the natural gas valve to the starch plant,” Broin notes.

There are plenty of cellulosic leftovers on farm fields and elsewhere in the U.S., not just corn stover but also from other energy crops such as switchgrass, along with wood waste and agricultural remains such as wheat straw. The DoE estimates that roughly 900 million metric tons of such material is available each year—a renewable resource that could make about 300 billion liters of ethanol. And there are plenty of conventional ethanol plants near which to locate—almost 200 according to the most recent data from DoE—and that is just in the U.S. “We see the opportunity to build these plants all over the world,” Broin says.

POET is not alone. Agrochemical giant DuPont opened its own cellulosic biorefinery next to a conventional starch-based fuel facility last October in Nevada, Iowa, and it should eventually be able to produce around 115 million liters of cellulosic ethanol per year. “You know, it’s been a long time coming but we’re proud it’s here,” Terry Branstad, governor of Iowa, said on October 30 last year at the opening of the new DuPont facility, which is still not running at capacity.

“Thirty million gallons of biofuel will be produced without consuming a single additional bushel of corn,” added U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a longtime ethanol supporter and one of the architects of the RFS. “You have achieved here what Congress hoped: new biofuels that were cleaner, greener and more efficient.”

But the opening of DuPont’s new facility also occasioned the shutdown of DuPont’s other cellulosic refinery in Tennessee. “DuPont remains committed to the commercialization of cellulosic biofuel and will focus its resources on its Iowa facility,” Jan Koninckx, DuPont’s global business director for advanced biofuels, told Scientific American in an e-mailed statement.

Cellulosic fuels’ main hurdle seems to be economic. In April 2012 Blue Sugars Corp. of South Dakota produced the first batch of qualifying cellulosic ethanol, a little more than 75,500 liters, then promptly went out of business. In 2013 no cellulosic ethanol was produced but by last year—after several DoE-supported plants came online—all five of those biorefineries produced a total of 8.3 million liters of cellulosic ethanol, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the RFS. Already, Spanish multinational corporation Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol plant—which opened in 2014 in Hugoton, Kans.—sits unused due to technology troubles as well as Abengoa’s bankruptcy. That plant consumed a $132-million loan guarantee as well as a $97-million grant from the DoE before idling.

Simply put, cellulosic ethanol is more expensive to make than ethanol fermented from cornstarch or from sugarcane, the world’s second-largest source of fuel ethanol. “Everything’s expensive here because it’s first of a kind,” Broin says. “The next plant will be a lot cheaper.

On a more basic level, moving fibers and sludge through an industrial facility is tough to do without breakdowns. The corn stover arriving at POET’s cellulosic facility had as much as three or four times more sand and gravel mixed in than engineers had anticipated, and that grit wreaked havoc on pumps, valves and other equipment.

“We have made literally hundreds of small process changes,” including a thorough washing of the corn stover once it comes out of the bale, Broin says. There have also been not-so-small process changes, such as using large cranes to tear open buildings in order to replace equipment.

But Broin notes that ethanol from corn faced the same difficulties during its ascent over several decades. And cellulosic ethanol is now definitely being produced in meaningful quantities at Project Liberty. “We’re shipping cellulosic ethanol,” Broin says. “We’re filling railcars.”

That’s good because the EPA now requires nearly 1.2 billion liters of cellulosic biofuels in 2017 under the terms of the RFS. That’s still well below where lawmakers like Grassley thought cellulosic ethanol would be by now—they had established a target of some 11 billion liters per year back in 2007. When that failed to materialize, the EPA mandated at least 465 million liters of cellulosic biofuel in 2015, but only saw 8.3 million liters mixed into the nation’s fuel supply. So the rest of the nearly 57 billion liters of ethanol fuel came from corn kernels, with attendant concerns about industrial farming practices, water pollution and impacts on food prices.

“Everything about ethanol is good, there is nothing bad. It’s good for agriculture, good for the environment, good for economic development in rural communities,” Grassley told Scientific American at the DuPont opening in October. “We will demonstrate that we can produce food and fuel forever. We don’t need to worry about choosing between food and fuel.”

The combination of cellulosic biorefineries with starch-based ethanol plants could prove more potent economically, but it fails if the goal is to reduce the amount of ethanol made from corn. Instead of replacing corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol may simply supplement it.

Regardless, the ethanol industry’s ambitions are much larger than just Project Liberty and its peers or even the hundreds of conventional ethanol fuel plants: The sector hopes to one day produce around 570 billion liters a year, including a major contribution from cellulose, according to Broin. “There’s a big market out there that we’d like to replace—that’s the entire gasoline market,” Broin says. “We can grow our way easily out of our reliance on fossil fuels and people just don’t understand that.”

To learn more about ethanol—cellulosic and otherwise—tune in this fall to The Ethanol Effect on PBS, hosted by David Biello.

Ethanol & Co-Product Exports Contributed $7.54B To US Economy In 2014

U.S. ethanol and ethanol co-product exports contributed a total of $7.54 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014, according to a new study by the U.S. Grains Council and the National Corn Growers.

The study, “Evaluating The Economic Contributions Of U.S. Grain Exports On State And Congressional District Economics”, said the total GDP contribution from ethanol exports in 2014 was $2.96 billion while DDGs and corn gluten feed (co-products from ethanol production) exports the same year contributed $4.58 billion to the economy. These figures include direct, indirect and induced effects.

It said ethanol exports in 2014 generated a total of $1.57 billion in labor income and supported 25,250 jobs while DDGs and corn gluten feed (CGF) exports generated $2.42 billion in labor income and supported 38,978 jobs.

The study, carried out by Informa Economics IEG,said ethanol exports in 2014 were valued at $2.06 billion. In 2014, a total of 836 million gallons of ethanol was exported.

But once taking into consideration the impact of those exports to industries that are linked via indirect or induced spending, the total economic output of ethanol exports in 2014 was $8.87 billion.

Similarly, the study said the value of DDG and CGF exports in 2014 was $3.18 billion but the total economic output of those exports was $13.69 billion.

Besides ethanol and its co-products, the study also examined the economic impact of other grain and grain product exports. These include corn, barley, sorghum and corn-equivalent meat products. On a national level, it said grain and grain product exports in 2014 increased GDP by $32.9 billion and supported 371,536 jobs.

On a micro-level, the study said grain and grain product exports in 2014 in Minnesota was valued at $512.82 million, contributed $382 million to GDP, supported 3,988 jobs and had a total economic output of $1.17 billion.

When narrowed down to congressional districts, the study noted that grain and grain product exports from Minnesota’s first congressional district, which is represented by Congressman Tim Walz, was valued at $289.07 million, supported 910 jobs, contributed $77 million to GDP and had a total economic output of $416 million.

There are 11 ethanol plants in Minnesota’s first congressional district that produce 698 million gallons of ethanol annually. These plants include Al-Corn Clean Fuel in Claremont, Guardian Energy in Janesville, Heron Lake Bioenergy in Heron Lake, Green Plains Renewable Energy in Formont.

In the Minnesota’s seventh congressional district, represent by Congressman Collin Peterson, grain and grain product exports in 2014 were valued at $204.92 million, supported 887 jobs, contributed $70 million to GDP and had a total economic output of $318 million.

There are nine ethanol plants in Minnesota’s seventh congressional district that produce 467 million gallons of ethanol annually. These plants include Granite Falls Energy in Granite Falls, ADM in Marshall, Heartland Corn Products in Winthrop and Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton.

The study also strangely included the economic impact of grain and grain product exports in Minnesota’s second congressional district. The district, represented by Congressman John Kline, does not have any ethanol plants, but still registered $3.02 million in grain and grain product exports in 2014 and had an economic output of $6 million.

In total only 52 congressional districts were selected for the study and were included in accordance to the importance of agriculture in the district’s economy.

Read the full study here.

USITC Releases Report Concerning the Likely Impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement

The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) today released its report assessing the likely impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement that the President has entered into with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The USITC’s report, Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors, provides an assessment of the likely impact of the Agreement on the U.S. economy as a whole and on specific industry sectors and the interests of U.S. consumers, as requested by the U.S. Trade Representative and required by the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015.

In making its assessment, the Commission investigated the impact the agreement will have on the U.S. gross domestic product; exports and imports; aggregate employment and employment opportunities; and the production, employment, and competitive position of industries likely to be significantly affected by the agreement. In preparing its assessment, the Commission also reviewed available economic assessments regarding the Agreement, including literature concerning any substantially equivalent proposed agreement. The Commission provides a description of the analytical methods used and conclusions drawn in such literature, and a discussion of areas of consensus and divergence between the Commission’s analyses and conclusions of other economic assessments reviewed.

Main Findings

  • The Commission used a dynamic computable general equilibrium model to determine the impact of TPP relative to a baseline projection that does not include TPP.  The model estimated that TPP would have positive effects, albeit small as a percentage of the overall size of the U.S. economy. By year 15 (2032), U.S. annual real income would be $57.3 billion (0.23 percent) higher than the baseline projections, real GDP would be $42.7 billion (0.15 percent) higher, and employment would be 0.07 percent higher (128,000 full-time equivalents). U.S. exports and U.S. imports would be $27.2 billion (1.0 percent) and $48.9 billion (1.1 percent) higher, respectively, relative to baseline projections. U.S. exports to new FTA partners would grow by $34.6 billion (18.7 percent); U.S. imports from those countries would grow by $23.4 billion (10.4 percent).
  • Among broad sectors of the U.S. economy, agriculture and food would see the greatest percentage gain relative to the baseline projections; output would be $10.0 billion, or 0.5 percent, higher by year 15. The services sector would benefit, with a gain of $42.3 billion in output. Output in manufacturing, natural resources, and energy would be $10.8 billion (0.1 percent) lower with the TPP Agreement than it would be compared with baseline estimates without the agreement.
  • Many stakeholders consider two new electronic commerce provisions that protect cross-border data flows and prohibit data localization requirements to be crucial to the development of cross-border trade in services, and vital to optimizing the global operations of large and small U.S. companies in all sectors.
  • TPP would generally establish trade-related disciplines that strengthen and harmonize regulations, increase certainty, and decrease trade costs for firms that trade and invest in the TPP region. Interested parties particularly emphasized the importance of TPP chapters addressing intellectual property rights, customs and trade facilitation, investment, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, and state-owned enterprises.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors (Investigation No. TPA-105-001, USITC Publication 4607, May 2016) is available on the USITC’s Internet site at https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/pub4607.pdf

RDL & Associates: A Team Approach to Issues Management

Although 2018 might seem to be far off, discussions about what the next farm bill should look like are beginning to surface.  Coalitions are being formed, policies are being floated and strategic planning by stakeholders of all stripes is well underway.

This preliminary farm bill activity is in addition to ongoing issues of relevance to your organization, including; the scope of regulations, trade agreements, tax policy, the federal crop insurance program, Waters of the United States (WOTUS), biotechnology and dairy policy.  And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Federal lobbying and state issue management are not mutually exclusive.  The business relationships between RDL & Associates and our strategic partners in Washington, D.C., St. Paul, MN and throughout the United States allow for seamless legislative representation for our clients.    Our model provides for a true team approach and creates additional opportunities and efficiencies for clients of RDL & Associates.

RDL & Associates specializes in government relations, policy development and analysis, strategic communications, message development and delivery, coalition development, grassroots engagement and online outreach.  Although we specialize in agricultural and rural issues at the state and federal levels, we work with a range of clients in addressing a variety of issues.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss in greater detail how our offerings will add value to your organization – both now and into the future.  Links outlining our client services can be found below.

We thank you in advance for your consideration.

Dave Ladd, President
RDL & Associates, LLC
(651) 247-5458 – mobile
e-mail:       daveladd66@gmail.com
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Professional Biography – Dave Ladd; President

Washington, Lincoln and the 2018 Farm Bill

In the United States, the idea that government has a role to play in support of production agriculture dates back to the Nation’s infancy.  In his 1796 Annual message to Congress, President George Washington stated, “It will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare agriculture is of primary importance…Institutions for promoting it grow up, supported by the public purse; and to what object can it be dedicated with greater propriety?”

Daniel Webster, best known as a Senator from Massachusetts from 1827–1841 and 1845–1850, argued “Let us never forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man.  When tillage begins, other arts follow.  The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization.”

On May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to create the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Over the next two months – in the midst of the Civil War – he signed additional legislation that expanded and transformed American farming, including the Homestead Act, and the establishment of the Land Grant agricultural university system.  In 1889, the USDA was elevated to cabinet status.

Since the early days of the American Colonies and the founding of the Republic, agriculture policy initiatives and farm bills have been a staple of domestic and foreign policy.  Agree, or disagree, these bedrock principles which have tended to reflect the fundamental goals of farm policy; providing a safe and abundant food supply, retention of a competitive marketplace, and achieving both of these objectives at reasonable prices.

Between 1936 and 1947 there were no fewer than ten pieces of major farm legislation or Executive Orders dealing with agriculture.  In addition, at least 100 pieces of legislation between 1948 and 2015 were signed into law. 

Although each of these pieces of legislation may have been targeted to a specific policy initiative, what each has demonstrated is a commitment by the federal government and American taxpayer to ensure a safe and reliable food supply for the American consumer and the world at large.

Although 2018 might seem to be far off, discussions as to what the next farm bill should look like are beginning to surface.  Coalitions are being formed, policies are being floated and strategic planning by stakeholders of all stripes is well underway.

There will again be a broad range of issues under consideration, including (but not limited to); commodity support programs, payment limits, biotechnology, conservation compliance, utilization of risk-management tools, federal dairy policy, agro terrorism, food safety, and nutrition programs.

In addition, policymakers will debate issues regarding business development and retention, transportation infrastructure, technology (including telecommunications), availability of credit, education, housing and health care as they develop agriculture policy and craft the farm bill. 

The debate surrounding the last few Federal farm bills has made it clear that pressures for additional support for traditional programs contained within the agriculture budget be counterbalanced by efforts to curb spending in the face of ongoing budget deficits.  The inevitable competition between spending priorities will play out against the backdrop of the national debt, unfunded liabilities in excess of $200 trillion and a growing debate regarding decoupling of the commodity and nutrition titles.

None of the above, however, will be considered in a vacuum because the agriculture policy playing field is extremely complex.  There have been varied and conflicting ideals throughout the Nation’s history which have always surfaced during agriculture and farm bill debates.  More often than not these issues end up being played out in the political arena in equal (or greater) proportions to the activity which surrounds the substantive discourse.

Members of Congress, the Administration, and stakeholders will again engage in a delicate balancing act as they explore policies that will not only allow American agriculture to remain competitive, but also those which will garner enough votes to ensure passage of the next comprehensive farm bill before the current one expires.

Dave Ladd is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment.  His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials.

Copyright © 2016 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Nearly all U.S. ethanol is produced and sold in domestic markets (via USDA Economic Research Service)

Nearly all U.S. ethanol is produced and sold in domestic markets
U.S. production of ethanol hit a record 14.8 billion gallons in 2015, and when combined with the carry-over stocks from the previous year and 2015 imports, the total ethanol supply reached an all-time high of 15.7 billion gallons. Nearly all ethanol blended into the U.S. gasoline supply is produced domestically, and, over the past five years, about 94 percent of domestic production was used in the United States. Ethanol imports peaked in 2006 at 731 million gallons (equal to 12 percent of the U.S. supply), but each year since 2010 exports have exceeded imports, making the United States a net exporter of ethanol. The domestic market for ethanol is at full capacity due to the technical and regulatory constraints that limit most of the U.S. gasoline supply to a 10 percent maximum ethanol blend, so the export market is now the primary opportunity for growth. Ethanol exports peaked in 2011 at nearly 1.2 billion gallons, but have remained below 850 million gallons for the past four years. This chart is based on the ERS U.S. Bioenergy Statistics data product.

GMO solution continues to be sought on Capitol Hill (via Feedstuffs)

The House has passed its solution to avoid a patchwork of labeling standards for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the Senate seems willing, yet unable, to come to an agreement on what can pass the Senate and also be sent over to the House to gain passage.

In speaking with top members of the House and Senate agriculture committees on Tuesday morning, it appears that the understanding of the problem is real; however, the question remains whether something gets done before the July 1 implementation date of Vermont’s GMO labeling law. Some are hopeful that there is still time to work out a final compromise.

Countering the idea that Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and their staffs haven’t been working on finding a compromise “isn’t correct,” according to Roberts. Stabenow said she’s “hopeful” that they’ll come to an agreement.

Roberts was able to pass a bill out of his committee with a 14-6 vote that had Democrat support. However, when the bill was brought up on the full Senate floor, it failed to gain the required 60 votes needed to advance to debate, with Democrats predominantly opposed to his legislation.

Also, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said the marketplace may be able to work this out if only Vermont requires GMO labeling. He is hearing from many companies that they would have to reformulate products to not include ingredients from genetically engineered crops. However, he added that as more big companies such as Campbell’s, Mars and General Mills say they’ll begin to label and aren’t going to reformulate, it takes away some of the impediment to act. Plus, other companies are choosing to just not send their products to Vermont.

“If they do label and don’t reformulate and get to June or July, I think the market will solve this,” Peterson said. He added that if six months passes and nothing has happened, he expects that the whole focus will change from whether to label to what the label will look like. The other side wants “skulls and crossbones,” he said, and “in that fight, we clearly win.”

Roberts said he doesn’t think that is the right answer to the challenge as 31 states are considering legislation or initiatives to have some kind of GMO labeling requirements. More pressing is the four to five northeastern states considering similar legislation to Vermont. Roberts said he is already seeing reformulations in sugar beets especially, and canola could also be affected.

Stabenow said there is a risk in the long run in not having a consistent, national standard. She doesn’t see the votes in the Senate there to pre-empt states laws without having a national mandatory standard for transparency. Stabenow drew parallels to when fuel efficiency standards were being discussed at the state level, and then, too, the only acceptable way of pre-empting states was setting a national standard.

One possible solution has been accepting the food industry’s SmartLabel approach, which allows consumers to scan a QR code or visit a website to obtain additional information on products. Peterson believes the industry can live with that and said he would be supportive of a SmartLabel as a mandatory label and that others in the House likely would be, too.

As Stabenow noted, however, the challenge is making sure people have information that doesn’t penalize biotechnology. She said it’s one of the most difficult topics she has been involved in, and trying to find that balance is very difficult.