Gregory Meyer reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Cargill, one of the world’s biggest wholesale food suppliers, has bowed to consumer trends by offering its first products with a seal of approval from the leading US verifier of products free of bioengineering.”
The FT article explained that, “On Thursday, Cargill said it had for the first time received verification from the Non-GMO Project, a voluntary labelling organisation, for three of its food ingredients. The approval means packaged food companies that are Cargill’s customers can slap the project’s widely recognised butterfly logo on their products.”
However, Mr. Meyer noted that, “The three Cargill ingredients meeting project standards were cane sugar, high oleic sunflower oil and erythritol, a zero-calorie bulk sweetener made from corn. Of the three, corn is the only crop currently grown with genetically modified traits.
‘”There is no GMO sugarcane, and there is no GMO sunflower,’ said Peter Golbitz of Agromeris, a consultant to the natural food industry. ‘It’s somewhat capitulating to the growing consumer fear that there is something to be concerned about in all foods, as opposed to just the foods that may have commercial GMO varieties.'”
Yesterday’s article reminded readers that, “In July, President Barack Obama signed into law a measure requiring food companies to label products containing ingredients from genetically modified crops, pre-empting a Vermont state labelling law.”
Meanwhile, Jacob Bunge reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Consumers’ desire for deeper transparency into how food is made will continue pushing food companies to label ingredients made from genetically engineered crops, company executives said.
“‘Transparency is the coin of the realm,’ said Denise Morrison, chief executive of Campbell Soup Co., which earlier this year unveiled a plan to voluntarily label such GMO ingredients on its products, as federal and state lawmakers debated their own standards.”
The Journal article indicated that, “For shoppers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., price, quality and safety are customers’ top priorities when it comes to food, rather than GMO content, said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for the company, speaking at the [WSJ Global Food Forum] event Thursday.
“‘The debate never should have been about labeling,’ Mr. Yiannas said, but rather about whether GMOs are safe or not, and relying on science as the guide.
“When asked if catering to customers based on perceived risk might be overreaction, Mr. Yiannas said food producers and retailers may have to educate consumers to close the gap between perceived and actual risk, but meanwhile Wal-Mart ‘will always offer what the customer wants.'”
Robert T. Fraley, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto, penned an opinion item in today’s Wall Street Journal, where he noted that, “Genetically modified crops, which have generated both controversy and widespread adoption, are hitting 20-year milestones. Perhaps the anniversary slipped your mind, but 1997 was a dark one for the European corn worm. That was the year Bt corn, the first to bear its own protection against the larvae of the rapacious corn worm, was commercially introduced.
“The European corn worm had long ago invaded the U.S. and by the mid-1990s was causing more than $1 billion in annual damage. But now no insecticide was needed, thank you, because Bt corn had been genetically modified to pack its own. It produced a protein toxic to the corn worm and some of its fellow travelers, while benign to most other insects.”
Mr. Fraley indicated that, “What have been the effects of this technology? In May a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine completed a two-year review, ‘Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects.’ The committee, which examined about 900 studies, painted a highly positive picture.
“The academies’ report found ‘no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health from eating GE foods than from eating their non-GE counterparts.’ It also ‘found little evidence to connect GE crops and their associated technologies with adverse agronomic or environmental problems.’ In some cases, the review said, ‘planting Bt crops has tended to result in higher insect biodiversity,’ by reducing pesticide use.
“The report supported genetic modification in a fundamental way: It called for ‘strategic public investment in emerging genetic-engineering technologies and other approaches to address food security and other challenges.'”
Today’s opinion item also pointed out that, “These conclusions could not have surprised anyone who follows the issue. They’re consistent with the findings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and other highly respected groups. Thousands of independent researchers have consistently found that GMOs benefit not only farmers and the public, but also biodiversity, soil quality, water quality, carbon sequestration—in short, the environment.”
After citing studies that pointed to GMOs’ positive impact on crop yields, farmer profitability, and cost reductions, Mr. Fraley stated that, “To keep current production without the gains from GMO crops, more than 97,000 additional square miles—an area larger than Ohio and Indiana combined—would have to be cultivated globally. Instead the carbon in all that land, which would be released to the air during tilling, stayed in the dirt.”
Mr. Fraley conlcluded by noting that: “The rapidly growing global population and warming climate will make agricultural innovations a necessity, not a luxury. In my view, the next two decades will bring even more innovations than the past two.”
Meanwhile, a recent news release from Purdue University indicated that, “Purdue University professor of animal sciences William Muir recognizes the potentially immense benefits of genetic modification technology, commonly known as genetic engineering or gene editing.
“‘It could cure or prevent cancer, increase food production to feed a rapidly expanding global population, alleviate pain and suffering among livestock animals and prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika or malaria,’ says Muir, a biotechnology specialist.”
The release added that, “‘While it’s important to keep in mind all of the wonderful things we can do, we need to be cognizant of what the risks are and make sure we have the appropriate safeguards in place,’ [Muir] says. ‘This is a tremendously powerful technology, and it is absolutely vital that we make sure it is used responsibly.'”
On Wednesday, Bayer and Monsanto announced that they signed a definitive agreement under which Bayer will acquire Monsanto.
Thursday’s Wall Street Journal had two above the fold articles covering this development.
In the lede article in Thursday’s paper, Jacob Bunge and Christopher Alessi reported that, “Monsanto Co. agreed to sell itself to Bayer AG after months of haggling, in a $57 billion deal that would create an agricultural powerhouse and end the independence of one of the most successful and controversial companies in the U.S.
“If regulators approve the deal, which was unveiled Wednesday, the German pharmaceutical and chemical conglomerate would inherit Monsanto’s market-leading position in seeds and crop genes. That would tilt Bayer heavily toward agriculture in a long-range bet on high-tech crops to sustain a growing global population.”
“The Bayer-Monsanto union is the latest in a wave of tie-ups that have reordered the $100 billion global market in crop seeds and pesticides in the past 10 months. Major fertilizer producers also have pursued deals. Seed makers, having laid off thousands of employees and mothballed some research projects, regard mergers as a way to cut costs while more deeply integrating the development of new seeds and chemicals.”
The Journal article added that, “Bayer plans to fuse its prowess in pesticides—it ranks among the world’s largest suppliers—with Monsanto’s capabilities in seed genetics and biotechnology, which have allowed it to develop corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops that can survive weed-killing sprays and make natural toxins to repel bugs. The merged company would be the largest supplier by sales of both seeds and pesticides.”
This article also noted that, “While farmers prize biotech seeds for simplifying weed and insect control, they also have locked horns with Monsanto. At times they have bridled at the higher cost and the company’s efforts to protect its intellectual property; it sometimes has taken farmers to court when it suspected them of illegally saving and replanting its seeds.”
In the second article from the the front page of Thursday’s WSJ, Mr. Bunge reported that, “Behind a wave of multibillion-dollar mergers in the agriculture business is a moment of change in American farming. The dominance of genetically modified crops is under threat.
“Since their introduction to U.S. farms 20 years ago, genetically engineered seeds have become like mobile phones—multifunctional and ubiquitous. Scientists inserted genes to make crops repel insects, survive amid powerful herbicides, survive on less water and yield oils with less saturated fat, in turn eliminating farmers’ amateur chemistry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates this year that 94% of soybean acres were planted with biotech varieties, and 92% of corn acres.
“Today, farmers are finding it harder to justify the high and often rising prices for modified, or GMO, seed, given the measly returns of the current farm economy. Spending on crop seeds has nearly quadrupled since 1996, when Monsanto Co. became the first of the companies to launch biotech varieties. Yet major crop prices have skidded lower for three years, and this year, many farmers stand to lose money.”
The Journal article stated that, “Biotech farming has also shown limitations, given how certain weeds are evolving to resist sprays, forcing farmers to fork out for a broader array of chemicals. Some are starting to seek out old-fashioned seed, citing diminished returns from biotech bells and whistles.”
Mr. Bunge noted that, “Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer who helped develop the company’s earliest incarnations of genetically engineered crops in the 1980s, said farmers will remain faithful to biotech crops.”
“Kyle Stackhouse, who grows about 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans near Plymouth, Ind., is questioning the high-price seeds’ value,” the Journal article said, while adding that, “Mr. Stackhouse estimates he typically spends about $53 per acre on soybean seeds and $40 on pesticides, versus $83 he would have spent on biotech soybean seeds an additional and $24 on related crop chemicals. That puts him ahead about $14 per acre on costs. Mr. Stackhouse says he has planted no biotech crops for three years.”
The article concluding by pointing out that, “[Jim Kline, president of Kline Family Farms, which raises corn, soybeans and wheat near Hartford City, Ind.], in mid-September was repairing a combine as he prepared to harvest this year’s corn crop, each plant containing genes protecting against Roundup and root-chewing worms. But he has already placed orders to reserve seed for next year, when he anticipates that only about two-thirds of his cornfields will be sown with genetically engineered seeds.
“‘Commodity prices go down every day,’ Mr. Kline said. Since biotech farming isn’t working as well as it once did, he said, ‘why spend the money?.'”
Meanwhile, Leslie Picker, Danny Hakim and Michael J. de la Merced reported on the front page of the business section in Thursday’s New York Times that, “Don Halcomb, a 63-year-old farmer in Adairville, Ky., is expecting his profit to vanish this year, largely because of the confluence of falling crop prices and rising costs for seeds and other materials.
“The price of an 80,000-kernel bag of seed corn rose to $300 from $80 in the last decade, as the companies that produced them consolidated, he said. And with the recent decline in commodity prices, Mr. Halcomb said he expects to lose $100 an acre this year.
“‘We’re producing our crops at a loss now, just like the oil guys are pumping oil at a loss,’ Mr. Halcomb, who grows corn, soybeans, wheat and barley on his 7,000-acre family farm, said by telephone on Wednesday. ‘You can’t cut your costs fast enough.'”
Front page of the Business Section of Thursday’s New York Times
The Times writers explained that, “It is a common plight of farmers across the United States, with the global agriculture industry in a wrenching downturn. Because farmers have produced too much corn, wheat and soybeans, they have been forced to slash prices to sell their crops. They have also reduced spending on seeds, pesticides and fertilizer, which has eaten into sales at agribusiness giants, including Monsanto and DuPont.
“In response, these companies have sought multibillion-dollar deals to cut costs and weather the industry’s storm. Four major agribusiness mergers have been announced in the last year. The latest is Bayer AG’s $56 billion takeover of Monsanto — the largest acquisition of 2016 — announced on Wednesday. Every merger creates the possibility of higher costs for farmers.”
The Times article stated that, “Bayer and Monsanto said they planned to cut about $1.2 billion worth of costs as part of the deal, helping to improve efficiency.”
The trio of Times writers added that, “Christine Hamilton manages a farm of more than 12,000 acres in Kimball, S.D., growing crops like corn and operating a ranch. She said that if the deal can pass the antitrust screening, then maybe it could actually help farmers.
“‘I understand how companies need to get bigger in order to be competitive,’ she said. ‘As we are in a low part of the cycle, anything that might have a chance of reducing our input prices would be great.'”
In a similarly based look at the potential impact of large agri-business deals, Christopher Doering reported on the front page of Thursday’s Des Moines Register (picture, right) that, “Iowa farmers are anxiously waiting to see if they will be helped or harmed by the purchase of seed giant Monsanto Co. by Germany’s Bayer AG — a deal that could shrink competition and increase prices, but also raises the prospect of better seeds and chemical products that could bolster their profits.”
The Register article indicated that, “‘It’s mixed emotions for all of us in farming and agriculture,’ said Ray Gaesser, a corn and soybean producer in Corning, Ia., who has been farming since 1967. ‘We definitely need new traits. Finding the best avenue to get that done is what we should be after, but at the same time we’re concerned about the consolidation and being down to three or four majors instead of six we had even a year ago.'”
James F. Peltz reported on the front page of the business section in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times that, “Farm profits are forecast to drop for the third straight year in 2016 to their lowest level since 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“In turn, spending on seeds and pesticides as been flat or down in the last three years, the agency said.
“The deal may also be the catalyst needed to start a new green revolution where investment in R&D in seed and crop-chemical combination solutions could significantly increase global crop yields,” said Christopher Shanahan, agriculture and nutrition director at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.”
With respect to the regulatory aspects of the Bayer/Monsanto deal, Reuters writers Diane Bartz and Greg Roumeliotis reported today that, “U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has called a hearing next Tuesday to scrutinize the wave of consolidation. Farmers in Iowa, the Republican senator’s home state, are worried that seed and chemical costs are rising while grain prices are near their lowest levels in years. Farm incomes have plunged.
“Senator Bernie Sanders, who recently ended a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, called the deal ‘a threat to all Americans.’
“‘These mergers boost the profits of huge corporations and leave Americans paying even higher prices,’ he said.”
The Reuters article added that, “Senators Mike Lee and Amy Klobuchar, the two top antitrust lawmakers, also expressed concern. ‘The transaction has the potential to result in a significant loss of competition and reduced incentives and ability to innovate, thereby raising prices,’ said Lee, a Republican from Utah.”
And Jacob Bunge reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “To secure its deal to buy Monsanto Co. for $57 billion, Bayer AG will require approvals from a host of government regulators already scrutinizing a wave of consolidation in the agricultural sector.
“While Monsanto’s seed-focused business doesn’t vastly overlap with Bayer’s pesticide-heavy agricultural franchise, combining two of the world’s largest farm suppliers will test the tolerance of farmers and politicians already wary of multibillion-dollar deals to merge other top players in the $100 billion global market for seeds and pesticides, while fertilizer producers also consolidate.”
Mr. Bunge noted that, “The companies have had ‘some initial contacts with regulatory agencies describing what this combination would be about,’ Bayer Chief Executive Werner Baumann said on a call with investors after the deal was announced. ‘We have so far received encouraging feedback but nothing beyond that.’ He said regulatory filings will now begin.
“Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said on the call that between the two companies, ‘the overlap is quite small, with a few obvious exceptions.’ One area of overlap frequently cited as possibly prompting divestitures is seeds. ‘We feel quite good’ regarding regulatory approval, Mr. Grant said.”
Bloomberg writer Jack Kaskey reported today that, “Plantings of genetically modified crops fell for the first time last year as a commodity slump did what decades of activism couldn’t: slow the spread of biotech foods.
“About 179.7 million hectares (444 million acres) of so-called GMO crops were grown last year, down 1 percent from a record in 2014, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications said in a report Wednesday. North America led the decline.
“Low commodity prices prompted U.S. farmers to plant less corn and cotton, two of the most frequently engineered crops. Biotech plantings fell 3 percent in the U.S., the largest market for GMO seeds, which are produced by companies such as Monsanto Co. Cultivation also declined in Canada and Europe, where some nations opted to ban the planting of such crops last year.”
Today’s article added that, “Aside from low commodity prices, which have cut U.S. farmer incomes in half, biotech plantings also face challenges from a rapidly growing organic food industry and a Vermont food law that will require labeling products that contain GMOs starting in July.”
Andrew Pollack noted in today’s New York Times that, “With Vermont now set to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified crops, some big food companies like Campbell, General Mills and Mars have said they will start labeling all their foods nationwide. Del Monte Foods went even further, saying it would eliminate ingredients from genetically modified crops in many of its products.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg writers Jen Skerritt and Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, says it would rather have mandatory federal labeling standards for genetically modified organisms instead of a patchwork of state rules that it says will raise food costs and disrupt trade.
“‘I think a federal standard would be the right path to bring that certainty for consumers and certainty for food companies,’ Jesus Madrazo, global corporate engagement lead for Monsanto, said in an interview at an industry conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. ‘We need to strive for a reasonable approach that provides consumers what they need, but also doesn’t increase the cost of food or disruption on trade.'”
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: 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.
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”
Christopher Doering reported on the front page of the business section in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “More food companies are voluntarily disclosing if their products contain genetically modified ingredients, the latest sign that consumer groups may be gaining ground in their campaign to get a nationwide mandatory label.
“In just the past few weeks, candy-maker Mars, General Mills, Kellogg and ConAgra all announced they would be voluntarily labeling their products. They joined Campbell Soup, which became the first major food company to disclose the presence of genetically engineered organisms in January.
Mr. Doering explained that, “Companies that overhaul their label now, rather than wait, not only benefit by earning the trust of their customers, but they can potentially have a larger influence over how future state labels will look, food companies said.”
The Register article added that, “Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was not optimistic Congress could reach a deal before Vermont’s law takes effect this summer.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has also recently expressed his views on the labeling issue, and Politico’s Morning Agriculture indicated today that, “After the failed effort to limit debate on Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts’ voluntary GMO labeling bill last month, the Kansas Republican and other supporters vowed to try again when they returned from the two-week spring break. Now that they’re back, can middle ground be found to lure enough farm-state Democrats and states’-rights Republicans to vote for the bill? Talks on how to move forward could start this week, especially given that there are fewer than 90 days before Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law takes effect.”
Greg Trotter reported late last week at the Chicago Tribune Online that, “Immediately after U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack concluded his remarks at the Good Food Festival in Chicago Thursday, he was approached by a couple of admirers — and one ardent supporter of GMO labeling who wanted to bend the politician’s ear.
“The debate on labeling products that contain GMOs — genetically modified organisms — has roiled the food and agriculture industries in recent weeks. Many consumers say they have a right to know what’s in their food; those opposed to labeling say it gives the wrong impression the food is unsafe.”
The article noted that, “In a brief interview, Vilsack, a former two-term governor of Iowa, lamented the debate that’s divided the farming community.”
“A: I’m disappointed because I think it’s an opportunity at this point in time to bring agriculture together as opposed to continuing this dispute within agriculture.
“So it was a disappointment in that respect. I think it’s also going to create a confusing mixture of ways in which individual companies and individual states are going to approach this issue. I think it begs for some sort of standardization. And I’m hoping that despite the setback that folks in the Senate don’t stop working on this issue and figure out a way to reach common ground.
“Q: Do you think that’s realistic before July 1, before Vermont’s law goes into effect?
“A: I think it’s certainly possible and doable if people spend the time and are willing to understand that they’re not going to get everything they want. That’s the nature of compromise. We seem to have lost the art of compromise in this country, which I think is unfortunate.”
(Recall that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) has noted that it will be difficult to reach an agreement before this summer).
During the Tribune “Q and A” Sec. Vilsack also stated that, “We need to increase innovation and productivity here and around the world, in order to meet the demand for food. I don’t think there’s a full appreciation for how much food we’re going to have to produce to be able to feed 9 billion people. … (Global food security) is an enormous problem that we have got to face and America’s got to lead. And America is leading, but part of that is making sure we have adequate resources and agricultural research.”
Bloomberg writers Craig Giammona and Alan Bjerga reported this week that, “The second-smallest U.S. state is forcing a big change in the food industry.
“Kellogg Co., Conagra Foods Inc. and Mars Inc. all announced this week that they will start putting labels on all products made with genetically modified organisms. They followed Campbell Soup Co. and General Mills Inc. in preparing for the July 1 implementation of a Vermont law that requires the change. Creating labels for only one state isn’t feasible, so all packaging has to be overhauled nationwide, executives say.
“Food companies and agribusinesses have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting state ballot initiatives to require GMO labels, hoping to avoid a state-by-state patchwork of laws they argue would be expensive and burdensome. Big Food lobbied Congress for a federal solution but acquiesced to Vermont after a bill died in the U.S. Senate last week amid a partisan stalemate. That means a state with fewer than 630,000 residents is setting the course for a nation of 322 million.”
The Bloomberg writers explained that, “Even as the industry prepares to meet the requirements of the Vermont law, companies like General Mills, Conagra and Kellogg are holding out hope that Congress will find a compromise and establish a federal standard when legislators return from Easter break next month. [Note a related update about the potential difficulty of reaching a compromise in the Senate may be.] Absent that, the concern is that other states will enact laws that are similar but not identical. In that scenario, labels in Vermont might not be compliant with what’s required in other states, said Ken Powell, the chief executive officer of General Mills.
“Kellogg joined General Mills is arguing that creating labels for a single state won’t work. It’s impossible to isolate Vermont in a distribution system designed for interstate commerce, according to Powell.”
Annie Gasparro reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “General Mills Inc. is changing its labels nationwide to indicate whether its foods contain genetically modified organisms, ahead of a Vermont law that will mandate it as of July.
“‘The complexity and the cost of having one system for Vermont and one for everywhere else is untenable,’ Jeff Harmening, the company’s chief operating officer of U.S. retail, said in an interview.
“He said he is still hopeful that Congress will pass a national law that would supersede such state laws, but the company had to move ahead to comply with Vermont.”
The article explained that, “Two years ago, the Vermont legislature passed a bill that made it the first state to require food makers to label products made with the technology. It stemmed from consumer backlash as some people raised concerns about their safety and environmental impact.”
Ms. Gasparro also reminded readers that, “General Mills’ decision comes after a federal bill that would pre-empt any state law on GMO labeling stalled on a procedural hurdle in the Senate two days ago, shortly before lawmakers left Washington for a two-week recess. Congressional aides were expected to continue the negotiations during the break.”
The Journal article added that: “The Vermont law applies only to packaged foods that contain GMO ingredients and fresh produce sold at retail outlets in the state. It doesn’t apply to meat and dairy products made from animals that consume GMO feed.”
Reuters writers Lisa Baertlein and Karl Plume reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Senate on Wednesday blocked a bill that would nullify state and local efforts to require food makers to label products made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as the industry races to stop Vermont’s law from taking effect on July 1.
“The proposed legislation from Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas comes amid growing calls for transparency in the U.S. food supply. Labeling advocates have criticized the bill as toothless because it leaves the decision to disclose GMO ingredients to the companies whose products contain them.
“Senate Bill 2609 is known as the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act by supporters and the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act by opponents. A procedural vote on Wednesday failed to reach the necessary 60 votes to advance the bill in the Senate, with 49 yes votes and 48 no votes.”
The article added that, “Roberts vowed to keep fighting as the July 1 deadline looms for Vermont’s labeling requirement to take effect.”
AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Republican senators were hoping to find compromise with Democrats who have supported mandatory labeling. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, tweaked the bill that advanced from his committee this month to require the Agriculture Department to measure whether food companies were using voluntary labels. If not enough companies were doing so in three years, the department would require the labeling.
“But that wasn’t enough for most Democrats.”
An update today at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog explained that, “Anyone who thought the bill advanced on Wednesday seemed different from Roberts’ original legislation had valid reasons for feeling confused. The bill placed on the floor for consideration by Roberts was not the same bill as was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee. Roberts had filed a substitute bill on Monday, which provided a path to mandating the industry-backed ‘SmartLabel‘ alternative to on-package labeling should 70 percent of the industry fail to adopt the system after a period of years. Simultaneous with the filing of the new bill, Senate Republican leadership immediately filed for cloture so as to limit debate and opportunities to amend the bill.”
And, Jason Huffman reported today at Morning Agriculture (Politico) that, “As expected, Roberts’ bill had trouble winning the support of Democrats. Just three crossed the aisle — Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tom Carper (Del.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — to vote in favor of cloture, while 41 voted against it. Eight Republicans, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.), voted against the bill, while 45 voted for it. McConnell’s no vote was procedural, so he could bring the bill up again later, his office confirmed.
“Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who voted for the bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee, was among those to cast a ‘nay’ on the floor. The problem, she said, is that the concerns she raised at the time the committee was reviewing the measure still haven’t been fixed. ‘I remain hopeful that we can reach a compromise on a bill that avoids subjecting our entire food supply to a patchwork of state laws while creating a national uniform standard that works for consumers,’ she said.”
Christopher Doering added in today’s Des Moines Register that, “Roberts said earlier this week he would work on the bill once Congress returns from its Easter recess in April if it was unsuccessful Wednesday.
In addition, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) indicated in a statement yesterday that, “There are many marketing techniques available to provide consumers with information about the products they choose to purchase. Biotechnology is not an issue of safety. Therefore, government mandated warning labels having nothing to do with product safety and serve no purpose other than to disparage one product over another. These Senators cannot continue to say that they are advocates for America’s farmers and ranchers when they consistently oppose those who provide the food we eat and the clothes on our backs.”
Meanwhile, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton provided an overview of reaction to the Senate vote in an article yesterday.
Several Senators took time to discuss the GMO food labeling issue on the Senate floor Wednesday, links and excerpts below:
(Note: Some Senators debated this issue on the Senate floor on Tuesday, a recap of remarks and links to transcripts from these discussions can be found here.)
Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.)- (full transcript)- “Consumers want information about the food they eat, it is as simple as that. In fact, the bill continues the status quo on providing information to consumers. It lists a number of things, many of which are already being done, 1–800 numbers and so on. Look at the back of the pack; it lists things, but they are things that are already being done—not all but many, enough—and then says: We will keep the status quo nationally, but we will preempt the States and citizens around the country from taking individual action. I don’t support that. That is not good enough. It doesn’t reflect what we do when we are talking about Federal policy. That is one reason I think the approach put forward in the bill is the wrong path.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska)- (full transcript) highlighted issues associated with genetically engineered salmon -“Genetically engineered animals are not crops, and GE salmon is a genetically engineered animal…[M]y concern is that with the GMO bill before us now, it really does threaten the good progress we have made at this point in time.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) (full transript)- “I also realize that California farmers may need to rely on genetic engineering to address challenges such as climate change and disease. But I do not understand why industry is so opposed to informing consumers of how their food was produced. The industry says it should only be required to label foods when there is a human health reason to do so. However, the Federal Government has always had labeling requirements for food that aren’t due to a human health reason. These requirements exist because they allow consumers to make informed choices in the marketplace.”
Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kans.) (full transcript)- “The difficult issue for us to address is what to do about the patchwork of biotechnology labeling laws that will soon wreak havoc on the flow of interstate commerce, agriculture, and food products in every supermarket and every grocery store up and down Main Street of every community in America. That is what this is about. It is not about safety, it is not about health, and it is not about nutrition. It is all about marketing…[T]he fundamental role of the Agri- culture Committee is to protect American farmers and ranchers who provide a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply to a very troubled and hungry world. So I will be voting yes to do just that, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same. Voting no today means telling your constituents next week that you are raising their grocery bill by over $1,000. Good luck with that. It is a pretty simple vote. You are either for agriculture or you are not.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) (full transcript)- “This morning, my good friend, Senator TOM CARPER from Delaware, and I filed an amendment that builds off the framework of the proposal before us today. A framework I first suggested in the Agriculture Committee markup of this very bill. It creates a national voluntary bioengineered food labeling standard. It stipulates that if food companies fail to make sufficient information available, then a national food labeling standard for bio-engineering becomes mandatory.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) (full transcript)- “Here is the situation: The Nation is very cynical about this body. This body here, they say, isn’t responding to the concerns of the American citizens. Is there any single bill that has been more an example to justify that cynicism than this bill which is before us right now? When 9 out of 10 Americans say this is important to them, the majority of this body says: We don’t care. When 9 out of 10—or roughly that number—Democrats and Republicans and Independents all agree on something, this body says: We don’t care. Isn’t the cynicism of the American citizens justified?”
Jennifer Steinhauer and Stephanie Strom reported in today’s New York Times that, “The Senate will grapple this week with perhaps the most contentious issue in the food industry: whether the government should require mandatory labeling on foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.
“On Wednesday, the Senate is set to vote on a measure that would create voluntary national standards for labeling food with genetically modified ingredients. The bill would prevent states from mandating labels just before Vermont was set to become the first in the nation to impose such requirements.
“But the measure most likely lacks sufficient support from Democrats, most of whom would like to see a mandatory labeling program that offers food manufacturers different options for presenting the information, including a simple symbol. That means the legislation will almost certainly have to be revised.”
The Times article noted that, “This month, for example, the Corn Refiners Association released a study concluding that nationwide labeling — and a consequent shift in ingredients by food companies seeking to avoid the labels’ stigma — would raise the average family’s grocery bill by more than $1,000 a year.
“Maine and Connecticut have also adopted labeling standards, but those laws do not go into effect until other states in the region also pass laws.”
Meanwhile, John Bresnahan and Anna Palmer reported yesterday at Politico that, “Four organic-food industry executives held a fundraiser on Friday for Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow — the Senate’s leading Democrat on agriculture issues — just days before the chamber was set to take up a controversial bill with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line for U.S. food companies.”
The article added that, “A Stabenow aide said the fundraiser had been in the works for months and was not timed to coincide with action on the Republican-authored bill. The legislation, however, has been a topic of heated debate in Washington and the agricultural industry for months, and Stabenow played a key role in negotiations on the issue.
“On Tuesday, Stabenow sided with organic food companies and came out against the bill, authored by Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). Opponents argue the legislation fails consumers by preventing states from requiring labels on food products that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Stabenow’s opposition is a serious blow to the bill’s chances of clearing a Democratic filibuster.
“Stabenow’s office said there was nothing untoward about her participating in the fundraiser even as the Senate was set to begin debate on the GMO bill.”
Several Senators took time to discuss the GMO food labeling issue on the Senate floor Tuesday, links and excerpts below:
Snate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) (full transcript)- “The commonsense, bipartisan legislation offered by Chairman PAT ROBERTS of the Agriculture Committee would set clear, science-based standards in order to prevent families from being unfairly hurt by a patchwork of conflicting State and local labeling laws passed in places where they don’t even live. This bipartisan bill would help meet consumer interest for information about how food is made, while keeping costs from rising at every level of production.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) (full transcript)- “Mr. President, 90 percent of Americans want to know what is in their food. All of Europe, China, Russia, they know what is in their food. We should know what is in our food. Senator STABENOW, the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, has been trying to work to come up with some reasonable approach, but what she has gotten is not much help from the chair of the committee.”
Senators Jon Tester (D., Mont.) and Jeff Merkely (D., Ore.)- colloquy-(full transcript)- Sen. Tester: “Transparency in everything leaves better accountability and gives more power to average Americans, and that is also true when we talk about food. Free markets work when consumers have access to information. The U.S. Senate should not be in the business of hiding information from consumers.”
Sen. Merkley: “Well, in this Monsanto DARK Act 2.0 that has been put on the floor, there is a third option beyond the voluntary labeling and beyond the 1–800 numbers and QR code, and the third option—door No. 3, if you will—is that the company can put something on social media, which means, I assume, Instagram, Facebook, or who knows what. So if I am a customer and I am in the store and I see these three products and I want to find out if they have GE ingredients and there is no 800 number and there is no QR code because the company has chosen door No. 3, how am I to know that?”
Senate Ag. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) (full transcript)- “I have heard concerns that a voluntary-only standard would not provide consumers with enough information, even though there is no health, safety, or nutritional concern with this biotechnology. So we worked out a compromise to address these concerns by providing an incentive for the marketplace to provide more information. This legislation will allow the markets to work. However, if they do not live up to their commitments and information is not made available to consumers, then this legislation holds the market accountable. Under this proposal, a mandatory labeling program would go into effect only if a voluntary program does not provide significant information after several years…[T]his is not the first time this body has addressed this issue. In 2012 and 2013, Members of the Senate soundly rejected the idea of mandatory labeling for biotechnology. That is right. Both times more than 70 Members voted to reject mandatory labeling. This body then stood up for sound science and common sense, and I trust my colleagues will continue to stand up and defend sound science again.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) (full transcript)- “As a mom and as a grandma, I want to know what is in my food. Because of work we have done before, you do have to list how much sugar is in the product, which is so critical as we combat diabetes and other things. Sometimes you read that sugar content, and you think: Oh my God, I am going to get something else. And you can see how many carbs, how much fat. Why can’t you find out if the product is genetically modified? Seems to me, this is fair.”
Sen. Jeff Merkely (D., Ore.) (full transcript– including around a dozen letters from concerned voters on this issue that were sent to his office)- “Voting no tomorrow morning is the right vote if you believe in States’ rights. It is the right vote if you believe in the consumers’ right to know, the citizens’ right to know. And it is the right vote if you believe we shouldn’t have a process in this Chamber that just jams through something for a powerful special interest at the expense of the 9 or 10 Americans who want this information. So tomorrow, colleagues, let’s turn down this insult to the intelligence of Americans, this assault on States’ rights, this deprivation, this attack on the freedom of our citizens.”
Sen. Pat Leahy (D., Vt.) (full transcript)- “The bill we are considering today [the bill sponsored by Sen. Roberts] is a hasty reaction—a reaction with no real, open hearing—in response to a 2- year-old law that is set to finally take effect and doesn’t fully take effect until the end of this year. Instead of protecting consumers and trying to find a true compromise, this bill continues the status quo and tells the public: We don’t want you to have simple access to information about the foods you consume.”
Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) (full transcript)- “So [the bill sponsored by Sen. Roberts] makes sure that we don’t have a patchwork of 50 State labeling laws. It sets up a voluntary program within 1 year. Then, if the information isn’t out there sufficient for consumers, it makes sure that USDA follows up and ensures that the information is provided and that it is provided in a variety of ways that work for consumers but also work for our farmers and ranchers and for the food industry so that we don’t raise costs for our consumers.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) (full transcript)- “We are where we are because the Vermont law is not written in a way that merely impacts the citizens of Vermont. It is astonishing to hear the misleading claim that the Vermont law is about the right to know. If the Vermont law is about the right to know, why is it that the law exempts so many products?
“Here are some examples of the absurdity of the Vermont law. Vegetable cheese lasagna would be labeled, but meat lasagna wouldn’t. Soy milk would need to be labeled, but cow’s milk would not. Frozen pizza would need to be labeled, but delivered pizza would not. Chocolate syrup would need to be labeled, but maple syrup would not. Vegetable soup would need to be labeled, but vegetable beef soup would not. Food at a restaurant would be to- tally exempt, but not food at a grocery store. Vegetarian chili would need to be labeled, but meat chili would not. Veggie burgers made with soy would need to be labeled, but cheeseburgers would not. By my way of thinking, it is a patch work that doesn’t make sense if you are trying to come up with a consistent way to communicate to consumers what is in the food they are eating.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) (full transcript)- “If there is scientific support for the health or environmental benefits, why not let consumers know? Let consumers make knowledgeable and informed choices. Consumers are capable of those kinds of choices, and I am shocked that this deliberative body is considering a measure that is crafted so purposefully and intentionally to, in effect, deceive the American public and actively deny them the accurate information they deserve. There is no question that this bill is nothing more than a carve-out for big businesses and mega-GMO seed corporations.”
“‘This legislation is a true compromise,’ said Chairman Roberts. ‘I have worked with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to find a balance between consumers’ right to know and ensuring an even playing field in the marketplace.'”
The release added that, “Votes on the legislation are expected as early as Wednesday.”
Yesterday, senators began to speak in more detail about these two legislative measures.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) noted that, “Vermont recently passed food-labeling legislation that according to one study could increase annual food costs by more than $1,000 per family. These aren’t just Vermont families I am talking about; these are families all across our country.
“The Senate will soon consider commonsense, bipartisan legislation that aims to ensure that decisions in one State or a patchwork of different State laws do not hurt American families throughout our country—especially at a time when so many are already struggling to make ends meet. The goal is to set clear, science-based standards in order to prevent families from being unfairly hurt by a patch- work of conflicting local and State labeling laws passed in States and cities where they don’t even live.
“I would like to recognize the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator ROBERTS, for his continuing work on this issue. The Agriculture Committee moved to pass the chairman’s mark last week with bipartisan support. I know Chairman ROBERTS continues to work with Senator STABENOW, the ranking member, and others across the aisle on a pathway forward on legislation we can pass in the Senate to resolve this issue. I urge Members to continue working with him in that endeavor.
“Let’s not forget that this may well be our last chance to prevent the actions of one State—just one State—from hurting Americans in all the other States. Legislation to address this issue passed the House last summer with bipartisan support. With cooperation from across the aisle, we can take action on a bipartisan basis here on the Senate floor as well.”
On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) indicated that, “Madam President, GMO, genetically modified food—that is basically what it is. What we want is to make sure consumers know what is in their food. They deserve clear standards. They require the disclosure of what is in their food, not a voluntary standard that Senator ROBERTS is talking about bringing out of the committee. All that does is leave consumers in the dark, and that is the wrong way to go.”
And Sen. Merkley, who has regularly addressed this issue on the Senate floor over the past several days (see here, here, and here), also spoke about the GMO labeling issue again yesterday.
In part, Sen. Merkley noted that, “Right now Vermont is a laboratory. On July 1 they are going to have their first labeling law in the country, and that is an experiment that their citizens wanted, consistent with 9 out of 10 Americans who want to know. They responded; Vermont responded. They are the first State in the Union to do so. Are we going to cut that short? We are going to trash that ability of Vermont to conduct this experiment? We are going to stomp on the citizens’ rights to know, not just in Vermont but in Oregon, Montana, Florida, and all 50 States, and throw in a few U.S. terri- tories as well?
“Now the argument is made that this is very dangerous because there could be multiple States that produce different standards. But that doesn’t exist. There will not be multiple States in July. There is only one State that has a bill. So it is a phony argument to say that this is somehow causing big, expensive problems because there are conflicting State standards, because there are no conflicting State standards. It is just one great State that responded to its citizens’ desires. Who are we to stop that experiment now? We should endorse that experiment. We should endorse that State laboratory. We should watch to see how well it works. We know citizens want this and that they care a lot. So why take it away just because Monsanto and friends don’t want Americans to know?”
Lisa Balick reported yesterday at KOIN-TV (Portland, Ore.) Online that, “Oregon US Sen. Jeff Merkley is behind a bill to make sure consumers could find out whether a food has genetically modified ingredients.
“Merkley’s bill is designed as a compromise to one Congress is voting on that would ban any state from passing a law requiring GMO foods be labeled. If passed, Merkley said, there would be no US standards for GMOs.”
The article added that, “What Merkley’s proposed bill would do is create those national labeling standards that would replace any state-by-state labeling issues. One idea is to create a special GMO symbol all companies would use on packaging.
“Congress is expected to vote on the bill to ban labeling next week. Merkley hopes enough pressure from consumers will spur lawmakers to replace it with his compromise bill.”
A news release yesterday from Sen. Merkely indicated that, “Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley visited Green Zebra Grocery in North Portland to discuss a bill, commonly referred to as the DARK – or Denying Americans the Right to Know – Act, which could be on the Senate floor next week that would permanently ban any state from requiring labeling of genetically modified ingredients in foods.
“Merkley also highlighted legislation that he introduced last week that creates a compromise to the DARK Act ensuring that consumers can find GMO ingredient labeling on food packaging while ensuring that food producers are not subject to confusing or conflicting labeling requirements in different locations.”
In part, Sen. Merkely noted that, “Ultimately, I will conclude—to give a preface here—that this is not a debate about the pros and cons [of GMOs]. There is information on both sides, different aspects. What is at debate is whether our Federal Government wants to be the large, overbearing presence in the lives of Americans and tell them what to think, or whether we believe in our citizens’ ability to use their own minds and make their own decisions. To be able to do that, they have to be able to know when there are genetically modified ingredients in the foods they are consuming.”
Sen. Merkley noted: “So the question is this: Does our government—the big hand of the Federal Government—reach out and say to our cities, our counties, and our States that there is only one answer to this and that is why we are going to ban you from letting citizens know what is in their food…[T]hey want to tell you how to think. They are supporting a bill that says the Federal Government will take one side of this argument and tell you it is the truth and spend your tax dollars publicizing it.”
Sen. Merkley also discussed some alternative ideas to labeling food such as providing a phone number on the package or putting a scannable label on products that can be read by smartphones. With respect to these ideas he noted that, “Well, first, Americans don’t want to stand there in the grocery store and start making phone calls to companies…[T]here is another idea floating around here: Put a computer code on the product, and people can scan it with their smartphone and get information. Well, this may be even more ludicrous than the phone idea in terms of stripping the power of American citizens’ right to know.”
He also discussed a 2015 survey of the labeling issue and pointed out that, “The question that was asked of the participants was this: As you may know, it has been proposed that the Food and Drug Administration, or the FDA, require foods that have been genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled to indicate that. Would you favor or oppose requiring labels for foods that have been genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients?
“After the respondent gives the answer, then the follow-up question is this: Is that strongly or not so strongly? Well, 89 percent of Americans say they favor mandatory labels on foods that have genetically modified ingredients. That is powerful. That is nine 9 of 10 Americans.”
In conclusion, Sen. Merkley stated that, “If you are going to step on the authority of States to provide information that citizens want, you have to provide a simple, clear, indication on the package. That is the deal. That is the fair compromise. That is standing up for citizens’ right to know. That is honoring the public interest. That is a compromise in the classic sense that works for the big issues the companies are talking about. They don’t want the expense from individual States and they don’t want the complexity and confusion from individual States. What consumers want is a simple indication on the package.
“Let’s do the right thing. Let’s not be worse than China and block our consumers from having access to information. Let’s do the right thing that virtually every developed country has done and provide a simple, clear system for citizens to be able to know what is in their food.”
In part, Sen. Merkely indicated that, “We should enable the individual in our beautiful Republic to make the decision and not have Big Government make the decision or suppress information. That is what happens in the non- ‘we the people’ world. That is what happens in dictatorships. That is not what should happen here in the United States of America, where individuals have the right to know what is in their food.”
Sen. Merkley added that, “There are 64 other countries, including 28 members of the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Brazil, that all require some type of indication on the ingredients panel or on the package. Do you know who else is in that group? China. China is a dictatorship. China doesn’t deny its citizens the right to know. How is it possible that a bill in this Chamber has been introduced to take away the right of Americans to know what is in their food? Even China doesn’t do that, and we must not do it either.”
The Oregon Democrat added that, “Basically, a big concern of the food industry—totally legitimate—is that they don’t want 50 different standards in 50 different States or to have a bunch of counties decide to make up their own rules, which would result in hundreds or thousands of rules. If you operate a warehouse, you can’t send different cans of soups to grocery stores across the country. No. So that makes sense. They want a 50-State solution. Furthermore, they want to have it acknowledged that there is nothing pejorative about the concept of bioengineering or transgenic. They want to know that people know this is a situation where there are some positive benefits, and I have mentioned some of those positive benefits. They don’t want a label on the front of the package because they think it would be scary to consumers, and they want flexibility as to exactly what system they use to alert consumers.
“The bill I put forward provides all of those goals for a 50-State solution. There is nothing on the front of the package, nothing pejorative, and provides flexibility for the food industry. It does not go to the final step that much of the food industry wants, which is no unpackaged labeling because then there is no compromise between the two sides.”