FarmPolicy

July 21, 2019

AgriTalk Transcript: Sen. Ag. Committee Chairman Roberts Discusses GMO Labeling

Categories: Biotech

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) was a guest on today’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where in part, the conversation focused on GMO labeling issues.

Below is an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the AgriTalk discussion that focused on labeling (audio replay here (MP3- 7:00)):

Mike Adams: All right. Let’s get an update. Where do you stand on a GMO labeling bill? Are you and Senator Stabenow any closer to some kind of a compromise?

Chairman Roberts: Well, we’re trying to work it out. I have said for, you know, quite a few days after we failed to get cloture –that means we failed to get enough votes to even consider a bill that I put on the floor, which was a little different from the markup we had in the committee. We passed that bill 14-6, but there were several people that made some suggestions, my colleagues from the other side of the aisle, which we always like to honor that in the Ag Committee. We like to work in a bipartisan manner and usually we do, but that bill failed. And so, well, the bill didn’t fail. We just didn’t even get to consider it because of the 60 vote rule and all that mess that we get into here in the Senate, but that was very unfortunate.

We should have considered the bill, opened it up to amendment. We had Senator Merkley from Oregon who has really talked a lot about this over and over and over again [see Senate floor transcripts from March 2, March 9, March 10 and March 14] and he has a bill. We offered him a vote. He didn’t take it. Senator Stabenow was supposed to come with her version. We didn’t see it, and then when we came to the cloture vote, we lost that, but we’re going to try again. Our staffs met last night. I think that Senator Stabenow will be–I hope she will be doing this–show the bill. Let’s get some sunshine on her version, but right now, I’m opposed to mandating labels and with not enough time and certainly not enough options for the food industry to comply.

And let me point out, time is fleeting here. You know, time’s running out. We got that Vermont law taking effect in July. They have a labeling law. It’s interesting to note they exempted a lot of their home state products, and there’s 31 states that are considering this. This is going to be a mess with regards to our food industry and our farm to fork system that everybody is not aware of, but they sure take advantage of it. So this is a tough fight, and agriculture biotechnology is involved whether we continue that and certainly any sugarbeet grower or any corn grower or any soybean grower has to stop and figure out maybe demand for their product or who they’ve been selling to will stop selling and–or stop buying. And so, this is a very big issue. I would label this issue as probably one of the top issues we’ve considered in the last 25 years.

Adams: Already food companies are now saying they’re going to start labeling— have to–to protect themselves because their products could wind up in Vermont, and they would be subject to fines there. So how close are you? I mean, can this…

Roberts:  Yeah. $1,000 a day.

Adams: Yeah. I mean, do you see this getting worked out anytime soon? Do you feel optimistic? Have you made that much progress, or is there any chance even getting on the schedule the way things are right now in a presidential election year?

Roberts: Well, that’s a good point. There is a–oh, there is, I think, peddled around just –I hope it’s a rumor –that because of the election situation that some of the folks on the other side of the aisle that we’ve always worked with are just going to rope-a-dope this issue. That would do great damage to agriculture. I hope that’s not the case. I don’t think that’s the case. So we’re still working on it. It’s a tough issue, but I always say the farmer would never put the seed in the ground if he didn’t expect it to have a good crop.

So we’ll take that optimism that farmers always have, and we’ll keep working at it. I hope that Senator Stabenow can fill in the blanks on her new bill, and then most importantly, we, you know, can we get 60 votes for it on both sides of the aisle? And I think that our growers have to be involved. They have to see what this is because this could shut, as I say, it could shut down with regards to everybody that buys their crop.

Adams: What changed? It seemed like coming out of committee, there was a feeling, “Okay. The other–the Democrats maybe didn’t like that,” but they were saying, “Well, we’ll get the change done so we can move on with this.” But then something–it all broke down. Now, what broke down, and how do we fix that?

Roberts: Well, you got to–we inherited this challenge from Europe and about 25, 30 years ago. All of agriculture should have stepped up, and I’m talking about everybody involved–the food companies, the processors, the manufacturers, and obviously our farmers–but we have a whole generation of folks that somehow believe that GMO is not safe. We had a hearing months ago. We invited the EPA, USDA, and the FDA–all of those agencies–to come up. The best scientists that we got. And the bottom line that I asked, “Is our food safe?” Answer, “Yes.” “Are GMOs safe?” The answer, “Yes.” So this isn’t a health problem. This isn’t a safety problem. This is all about market share. This is all about certain sections in various advocacy groups who raise problems with GMO products, but basically they just want more share of the market. Now that’s pretty harsh on my part, but that’s the way I feel about it. And if this agriculture committee, the Senate Agriculture Committee, proved–and the House Ag Committee will do the same. They already passed a bill over in the House that our food is safe. There’s no human health problem. I think it’s market share, and that’s a sad state of affairs. We’re trying to educate the public as best we can.

I think the difference in the bills are that we prefer a more voluntary approach with more options for the food industry, especially the little guys or the small guys, and that we would have a longer period of time, and we would have an education effort. I think the Democrats prefer a mandatory system, much shorter time frame, and much fewer options. And let’s don’t forget that we have to preempt. We have to preempt Vermont  and any other state that’s going to do this, or you’re going to have a hodgepodge and shut down the food industry, and as I say, the historic farm to fork delivery system that we all take for granted.

Adams: Okay.

Roberts: It’s a tough issue.

Adams: Mr. Chairman, thanks. But nothing pending? Nothing about to happen on this right now?

Roberts: Well, I’ve got–I’ve got the same bill I have. I don’t know.

Adams: Okay.

Roberts: That seemed, you know, that was going away from the bill. It got 14-6. I think if enough pressure is put on those folks about 10-15 Democrats who also represent agriculture, that’d be the best thing we could do.

Adams: All right. Chairman Roberts, thank you very much. I look forward to seeing what happens with this. Thank you.

Roberts:  You bet. Thanks.

Wall Street Journal Info Graphic on GMOs

Categories: Biotech

The print edition of today’s Wall Street Journal included an interesting info graphic regarding GMOs- “What’s at Stake for U.S. GMOs?”

The item stated that, “Big food makers are bowing to a small state– Vermont – which is requiring many foods sold in the state to bear labels if they contain genetically modified organisms. GMOs include crops whose genes have been altered to imbue resistance to herbicides or crop-chewing pests, and have become ubiquitous on farm fields- and in many food products.”

The Journal item added that, “The bulk of the U.S. corn crop is made into feed for poultry and livestock as well as ethanol for gasoline, with just a small fraction used to make consumer food products. Also, nearly one-third of corn converted into ethanol yields an animal-feed byproduct known as distillers dried grains”

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Ag Economy: “There Definitely Could be Some Pain”

Gregory Meyer reported today at The Financial Times Online that, “US corn bins are well stocked, grain markets are in a funk and economists warn of struggles ahead for farmers.

“But Kent Kleinschmidt of central Illinois intends to sow corn on half his 1,200-acre farm this spring, same as always. ‘It’s not like anybody’s in panic mode,’ he says.

“His sangfroid is common among farmers in the Midwest, and bodes bearishly for the world’s most widely grown grain. US farmers in 2016 have indicated plans to plant the third most corn on record despite low prices.”

The FT article noted that, “The approaching caravan of tractors repeats a dynamic seen across commodities markets. Despite a collapse in prices, miners, oil companies and farmers have been slow to restrain output, prolonging their pain.

“When corn doubled between 2006-12, topping $8 a bushel at their peak, farmers banked cash. Prices are now about $3.50.

“‘At the end of this year, the financial reserves built up in that profitable period will be pretty much gone. Then we’ll being facing some really tough decisions,’ says Gary Schnitkey, a professor of farm management at the University of Illinois.”

With respect to production costs, Mr. Meyer pointed out that, “In Minnesota, total expenses for growing corn dropped 8 per cent between 2013-15 to about $750 per acre, according to the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota. On highly productive acreage in central Illinois, total non-land costs for corn will be $550 per acre this year, down from $615 in 2013, according to Prof Schnitkey.”

Today’s article also stated that, “Stephen Gabriel, chief economist at the Farm Credit Administration, which oversees the credit system, says farm lending institutions remained ‘very well capitalised.’

“For farmers, ‘input prices will drop; they’ll start working more efficiently.’ Mr Gabriel says. ‘But in the meantime there definitely could be some pain. We’re expecting to see some credit issues arise over the next few years in the grain sector in the Midwest.'”

Mr. Meyer also pointed out that, “Farmers are planting corn amid a darkening financial picture. In central Illinois, home to some of the best soil on earth, Prof Schnitkey forecast a net loss after land costs of $36 per acre from corn this year with corn prices higher than they are today.”

Meanwhile, Jacob Bunge, in an article today at The Wall Street Journal Online, quoted Cargill chairman and CEO David MacLennan as saying, “Barring weather events, we don’t anticipate a near-term improvement in market conditions for agriculture.”

The Journal article pointed out that, “A global surplus of major crops has kept prices low, pushing U.S. farmers’ incomes to the lowest level in more than a decade and forcing them to scrutinize spending on seeds, sprays and tractors, which is posing a challenge for Farm Belt mainstays like DuPont Co., Monsanto Co. and Deere & Co.”