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.
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.
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.