Jan. 13, 2016 - Representatives of food and agriculture industry groups were
expected to meet today at the behest of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who
says he wants to find a resolution on the biotech labeling issue. No details of
the meeting have been released publicly, but Vilsack told the American
Farm Bureau Federation that he would communicate the “context and tenor” of the
meeting to leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees
both committees have been warning about an emerging patchwork of state labeling
laws, starting with a Vermont law set to take effect in July, if Congress doesn’t
intervene. “The stakes are huge,” House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway,
R-Texas, said. “Other jurisdictions will begin to create their own individual
standards. That’s just untenable for interstate
Soup Co. cited the Vermont law in announcing last week that it would start
labeling its products for biotech ingredients and was pulling out of the
industry coalition that is lobbying for legislation to preempt state labeling
laws. Some of Campbell’s best-selling products have traditionally contained
ingredients such as vegetable oils, soy protein and high fructose corn syrup
that are commonly derived from biotech crops.
It’s too early to tell how many other states will begin considering
similar laws this year, since legislatures are just getting their 2016 sessions
under way. But efforts already are underway to pass pending
bills in New York and Massachusetts.
Maine and Connecticut
already have laws on the books similar to Vermont’s but those statutes, unlike
Vermont’s, are contingent on neighboring states enacting similar requirements.
“We’re going full steam ahead on the campaign for labeling
in New York,” said Alex Beauchamp, northeast regional director for Food and
Water Watch. “The session just started last week, and we’re excited to have a big field presence this spring, including
several organizers working on the bill across the state,” he told Agri-Pulse. Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and
state Sen. Ken LaValle of Long Island are sponsoring identical bills in the
state Assembly and Senate.
Massachusetts, the Campbell’s announcement has added momentum behind a bill
that is co-sponsored by 155 of 200 state lawmakers and 12 of the 16 members of
the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources
and Agriculture, said Deirdre
Cummings, legislative director for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research
Group (MASSPIRG), an advocacy group.
has until March 3 to move the measure, under a rule that requires bills be
moved through committee by a certain date in order to be considered by the full
legislature. “We are continuing to talk to the committee and bill sponsors in
the House and Senate, and they are all interested in moving the bill,” Cummings
told Agri-Pulse. The “expectation is they will move a bill soon.”
The New York legislation, the Massachusetts bill and the Vermont law contain differing
definitions of “genetic engineering,” as well as conflicting labeling
law, which the Campbell labels will follow, requires labels to say “partially
produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,”
or “produced with genetic engineering.”
The New York
legislation would require labels to say “produced with genetic engineering” and
would allow use of the terms “GE,” “GM,” or “GMO.” The Massachusetts version
would require manufacturers to say “Genetically Engineered” or “Produced with
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety,
doesn’t think any new laws are imminent. “The other New England states could be the only ones,” he said.
“I think we have a chance in both” New York and Massachusetts,” but it would
take a couple of years.”
His group has
long been the leading opponent of agricultural biotechnology, using the courts
and most recently airing television ads fighting the federal preemption effort.
The most recent round of commercials started airing Sunday in Washington, D.C.,
and in states of targeted lawmakers.
industry-backed Coalition for Safe Affordable Food is launching a
counter-advertising campaign. The coalition ad says that state labeling laws “threaten family farms” and would
increase family food bills by $500 a year. “If Congress does nothing, farmers
and families will pay the price,” the ad concludes.
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com