WASHINGTON, May 4, 2016 - If a dairy cow eats feed made from genetically engineered grain – and most do – does the milk it produces need to be designated as a GMO product? What about bacon from a pig that ate GMO feed?
This is one of the latest issues that’s holding up senators as they try to cobble together a federal bill to preempt a coming onslaught of state GMO labeling laws, led by one that’s due to take effect in July in Vermont.
Feed isn’t an issue in the European Union’s labeling law or in the Vermont law, but the question and what to do about it is still hanging over the U.S. Senate.
Generally, Republicans and Democrats agree that milk, eggs and meat from livestock that eat GMO feed should not need to be marked as GMO products, but the divide is over how to handle it legislatively.
Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said last week in a hallway conversation with reporters that she doesn’t believe the issue needs to be addressed in the contentious bill.
“There is work being done there, but USDA is going to have a very important role in rule-making and I’m confident those issues can be addressed,” said Stabenow, who suggested that it shouldn’t be a concern for the livestock and dairy industries. Stabenow noted that neither Vermont nor the European Union considers meat or dairy products that come from animals raised on GMO feed to be GMO. “So I think there’s a path to address that,” she said.
But that’s not nearly good enough for some lawmakers, weary of how USDA implements the laws that Congress passes. There is no way Republicans will be able to accept a bill that does not have assurances in it that milk and meat will not be affected, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told Agri-Pulse.
“As we work with folks on the other side of the aisle that are willing to support some kind of compromise, we haven’t been able to get them to commit to say in the statute that animal feed doesn’t make the animal a GMO food product,” Hoeven said. “There’s been some discussion that USDA can decide that… but there’s no way we can sell that to our members, certainly on the Republican side, and to our producers that if that language isn’t there and if we just leave it up to USDA that would be satisfactory.”
The reason behind lawmakers’ fear of leaving something like this issue unresolved in the bill could be the enormity of the impact of a decision to label meat and milk as GMO’s. The U.S. annually produces about 9 billion food-producing animals such as cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys and goats and 95 percent of them are raised on genetically modified feed, according to a recent review published in the Journal of Animal Science.
But the review goes on to conclude that, based on dozens of long-term studies there is no reason to label meat or milk products from animals fed genetically modified feed because there is no difference between them and products from animals fed non-GMO feed.
“Studies have continually shown that the milk, meat and eggs derived from animals that have consumed GE feed are indistinguishable from the products derived from animals fed a non-GE diet,” concluded the author, Alison L. Van Eenennaam, cooperative extension specialist for Animal Genomics and Biotechnology at the University of California- Davis.
In other words, the genetic material that makes biotech grain and oilseeds different from traditional varieties is completely absent in the milk, eggs and meat that come from the animals that eat the crops. In fact, Van Eenennaam said, the GMO-fed and non-GMO-fed products are so genetically exact that if you had to tell them apart for labeling purposes, a massively complex supply-chain segregation and traceability system would be needed.
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