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Roberts spokeswoman: Action on GMO labeling ‘not yet’

Jun 16, 2016
Pat Roberts (R-KS), Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman

This is an excerpt reprinted with permission from The Hagstrom Report, a news service providing original national and international agricultural news to its subscribers.

As the July 1 date that the Vermont law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods comes closer, bits of information are leaking out about the behind-the-scenes negotiations between Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for a federal labeling law to preempt the Vermont law.

A Roberts spokeswoman said late Monday there was “not yet” any news about an agreement.

The Coalition for a Safe, Affordable Food Supply, which favors a federal law to preempt the Vermont law but opposes labeling on the package, continues to say in news releases that “until a bipartisan solution is announced, we won’t let up.”

But, according to a Red River Farm Network report on Monday, National C ouncil of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner, a co-chair of the coalition, said last week, “My patience and the patience of farmers across the country wore thin about three months ago, but right now, we are down to the absolute deadline here as the Vermont law is due to go into effect in about three weeks. I think they are pretty close, but obviously in legislative negotiations that final inch is a difficult inch, but they are very close. They have to get it done.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who has gone back and forth on the likelihood of a compromise, turned negative again late last week. The Des Moines Register reported that Grassley said, “I see it as very difficult to get a compromise. I hope something would develop this week that we could get something passed, but frankly, I doubt it.”

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the issue is still animal products, Red River Farm Network also reported.

“We’ve made progress in that we’re getting some agreement from our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to agree that if you feed GMO products to an animal, the meat and the milk of the animal doesn’t make that GMO,” Hoeven said. “We got as far as if you have a steak or something, that’s not considered GMO, but if you cut up and put steak in other products, somehow that would still be considered GMO. That’s what we are trying to resolve right now.”

Hoeven said the solution must be science-based. “The science is clear. If it’s not GMO when you eat that steak, if you cut the steak up and put it in soup, it’s still not GMO.”

When Chris Clayton, a reporter for DTN/The Progressive Farmer, lingered in the hallways outside the Senate on Thursday, he reported that Roberts said, “We just had a good, productive meeting. That is all I am saying.” Clayton also reported that Stabenow managed to avoid him.

But, Clayton wrote, “The big sticking point is how to label processed foods that have ingredients from biotech crops, but also have a meat product. 

There’s agreement that meat or dairy products should not be labeled as a GMO simply because the livestock or poultry producing the meat, dairy or eggs was raised eating GMO crops, Clayton said, but Roberts and the livestock industry also want to say that any processed food containing any meat product should be exempt from any national GMO label regardless of the other ingredients that come from biotech crops.

“That would mean a can of soup that has high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, hydrolyzed soy protein or soy oil but also contains beef stock would not be subject to labeling,” Clayton wrote. “The same logic would apply to TV dinners, pizza, etc. – basically any food containing something from meat would get this exclusion if Roberts and the livestock industry stick to their guns.”

But Laura Batcha, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, told The Hagstrom Report recently that OTA members believe meat from animals that have been fed genetically modified feed should be subject to the GMO label because meat from animals that have eaten genetically modified feed cannot be labeled organic.

Meanwhile, the United Fresh Produce Association published a white paper for its members to have guidance on labeling the few types of produce that are genetically modified.

And Bloomberg reported that, even though Brazil allows the use of genetically modified seed, its chicken industry isn’t importing genetically modified feed.

The Hagstrom Report covers Congressional hearings, markups and press conferences in Washington D.C., as well as national nutrition news and farm meetings throughout the United States. Subscribers to The Hagstrom Report receive a digital newsletter daily while Congress is in session and at other times as events require and news happens.

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