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Farm Bureau supports Senate's GMO-labeling proposal

LANSING, MI -- The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Board agreed June 27 to support the GMO labelling legislation negotiated between Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Announced June 23, the agreement proposes a mandatory, national GMO labeling standard and would forestall a patchwork of state-level labeling laws like the one scheduled to take effect July 1 in Vermont.

Farm Bureau explicitly favors voluntary labeling over mandatory, but several other provisions of the Senate proposal are consistent with the organization’s policy:

• Federal preemption protecting interstate commerce and prevent state-by-state labeling laws

• National definitions and standards for labeling products containing biotech ingredients, determined by the USDA

• A strong, narrow definition of bioengineering for labelling purposes, protecting future innovations from being stigmatized as “GMO”

Despite the Senate proposal’s mandatory nature, the organization’s leadership agreed the potential negative consequences of the pending Vermont law—and the potential for other states to adopt similar laws—warrants federal legislation providing national labeling uniformity.

“Another plus to this bill is that is explicitly prohibits the use of disparaging terminology in reference to biotech products,” said John Kran, national legislative counsel for Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB). “That’s important in helping maintain the scientifically proven integrity of commodities derived through genetically engineering and the food products they’re part of.”

Leaders across Michigan’s agriculture industry got a sneak peek at the package during a June 23 conference call from Sen. Stabenow.

The proposal calls for mandatory labeling offering consumers three options for learning more about the exact content of purchased food products:

• On-package symbols

• On-package words

• Electronic labels (like a QR code) linking consumers to detailed food-content information online

Exempt from the Senate proposal would be animal feed, meaning meat, dairy and egg products would not be required to disclose genetically engineered content.

The bill would also include a binding definition of biotechnology, finally codifying what the term does and doesn’t pertain to. It also provides flexibility for small companies to meet its requirements, and exempts cottage food businesses altogether.

A similar measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year. The full Senate could vote on the measure yet this week.

Farm Bureau members nationwide are encouraged to urge their Senators to support the legislation.