WASHINGTON, June 29, 2016 - The Senate will likely vote on the biotech disclosure agreement soon after returning next week from the long Independence Day weekend, says Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts.
The Kansas Republican told Agri-Pulse Wednesday morning that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to tee up the cloture vote later in the day. The Senate is expected to break for the holiday weekend Wednesday and is not scheduled to return until July 6.
Both Roberts and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, express confidence that they will have the 60 votes necessary to advance the bill. However, Roberts said he was continuing to press colleagues to vote for it. “We have several leaners. I can’t have leaners,” he quipped.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has put a hold on the bill, slowing down the procedural process, but a senatorial hold can be overcome with a cloture vote.
The legislation would preempt Vermont's first-in-the-nation mandatory GMO labeling law, which takes effect this Friday, but there would be little practical impact on the industry if the legislation isn’t enacted until later in the month.
Congress doesn’t have much time to get the bill to President Obama, however. Both the House and Senate will be out of session from July 15 until September because of the party conventions and the annual August recess. The House still must approve the Senate bill before it goes to the White House.
Roberts went to the Senate floor Wednesday morning armed with talking points to respond to a critique of the bill by the Food and Drug Administration, but he said no one asked him about it.
In the comments, FDA said the bill contains loopholes and was difficult to interpret in places. The agency, for example, said that vegetable oils, starches and purified protein would be exempt from the mandatory disclosure standard because of a requirement that the products contain “genetic material” of a biotech crop. Tests cannot detect genetic material in those products.
The critique also suggested that administration officials were not on the same page on the bill. The Agriculture Department has been assisting with drafting of the legislation, first in the House and most recently in the Senate since last year. And USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, not FDA, would be charged with implementing the Senate legislation’s mandatory disclosure standards.
USDA officials have not responded to a request for comment on the FDA comments.
Roberts said that the comments were "odd, not pertinent. … the (Agriculture) Department will run the standard, not the FDA.”
Some 1,065 companies, farm cooperatives and national and state organizations across the food and agribusiness sectors signed a letter endorsing the bill. The companies include industry giants such as Coca-Cola, Monsanto and Wal-Mart as well as small businesses such as Bongards’ Creameries in Young America, Minnesota, and Freedie’s Market in Webster Groves, Missouri.