Ag Week: GMO Food-Label Vote Set

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By Casey Wooten

July 1 — It's the moment of truth for the compromise genetically modified food labeling bill struck between Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

After clearing a 68-29 test vote in the Senate on June 29, the bill (S. 764) is likely to get a cloture vote when the Senate returns from recess July 6 (See previous story, 07/01/16).

The bill would create a mandatory labeling regime for food made with genetically modified organisms. Food makers would either print a text message on the package disclosing whether a product contains GMO ingredients, or print a symbol or an Internet link directing customers to GMO information.

The filibuster-proof majority on the test vote bodes well for the bill's backers, but opposition from some Democrats remains. Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders (I) say the bill doesn't go far enough compared to their state's own GMO labeling law, which went into effect July 1. The Senate bill would preempt the Vermont law and other state laws.

Their argument got a bit more backing June 29 when the Food and Drug Administration released comments critical of the GMO legislation, saying that the narrow definition of bioengineering in the measure could “raise confusion” (See previous story, 06/30/16).

It remains unclear what kind of reception the bill will get in the House, which passed its own GMO labeling bill in 2015 calling for voluntary labeling. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) has said he won't back a mandatory measure, but the positive reaction from industry for the Roberts-Stabenow legislation may sway labeling skeptics.

Pressure from food makers to get a nationwide bill passed has been strong, with more than 1,000 companies and industry groups signing on to a June 28 letter urging lawmakers to pass the Roberts-Stabenow bill.

SNAP, Security Hearings

After a week-long recess, the House returns July 5. The Agriculture Committee is set to hold a hearing on error rates and anti-fraud measures in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program July 6. The following day, the panel will examine agriculture and national security.

Certified Organic

Stakeholders have just a week-and-a-half left to submit comments about the Agriculture Department's controversial proposed rules for meat sold under the “certified organic” label.

In May, the chairmen and ranking members of Congress's agriculture committees asked the USDA to extend the comment period, saying their constituents showed “significant concern” about unintended consequences of the rule such as reduced access to organic products.

The agency responded, setting the new deadline for July 13.

The rules would set new, tougher animal welfare requirements for meat sold as certified organic. Poultry would need year-round access to sunlight and shade, with at least half of their pen being covered in soil. The rules also limit tail docking and beak alterations, among other practices.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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