Biotech labeling drive not going away, Merrigan says

By Jim Webster

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 -- The drive to require labeling of food with biotech ingredients "is not going to go away," former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan said today.

"People want to know," she told the CropLife America 2013 National Food Policy Conference. "I'm not saying it's a right to know or a need to know, but it's not going to go away," she said.

Merrigan pointed out that neither USDA nor the Food and Drug administration has allowed an organic producer to use a biotech-free label, although USDA's National Organic Program bars biotechnology from production of organic food. "It's schizophrenic to say you can't have a GMO free claim," she said in her first major public appearance since leaving office.

She said that Monsanto concurred with the USDA organic rule that prohibited biotech ingredients on the belief that it would provide an option for people who want to know. "If that logic still reigns, I'm curious why industry is not pressing to allow that 'organic plus GMO free' claim."

She also suggested that food safety regulators should be more sensitive to the needs of small- and medium-scale producers and food processors. Food Safety Modernization Act regulations under development by FDA have "the potential to transform, disrupt, improve and potentially destroy some operations," she said."It's really big. It could really change agriculture and certain parts of our industry more than you realize."

"No one gets a pass on food safety, but sometimes I worry about the bureaucracy not always being as creative as they might be in achieving the same level of food safety" at small and medium size operations," she said.

Asked why she left USDA, Merrigan did not answer directly but said there has been "a mass exodus of deputies across the federal government. We're a big club. I do believe it's the hardest job in the federal government. There's a lot of pressure there."

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