Will Congress finally settle the lingering debate over whether genetically engineered foods should carry labels? On Wednesday, a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee called for a bipartisan bill that could pass her chamber by the end of the year.
Earlier this year, the House passed a bill that would preempt states from mandating labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods and create a voluntary system for disclosing the presence of such foods.
“I share the concern about the difficulty in doing business across our country if 50 different states have 50 different standards and requirements," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) said in an opening statement Wednesday during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on agricultural biotechnology. “However, we also need to recognize and respect the interests of many American consumers who care deeply about how their food is produced."
Stabenow expressed support for a bipartisan bill that would address concerns that the United States would be home to a patchwork of state GE labeling laws. Stabenow said federal legislation also should provide “a national system of disclosure and transparency for consumers who wish to know more information about their food," but one that does not “stigmatize biotechnology."
But passing a bill in both chambers of Congress by the end of the year is thought to be a long shot, particularly if Stabenow and others in the Senate Agriculture Committee intend to introduce new legislation in the coming weeks.
Stabenow advised reporters she doesn’t support the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, the House bill that passed this summer; and she also hasn’t sponsored Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-California) Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, Politico reported Thursday.
“While Stabenow is in talks with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Sen. John Hoeven, who has been working on an industry-backed bill, she said nothing has been written yet," the article noted.
Groups that support mandatory labeling of GE foods have questioned their impact on the environment and humans, but in testimony Wednesday before the agriculture committee, a federal regulator described them as safe products.
Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), whose agency has evaluated data on more than 150 GE plant-derived foods, expressed confidence that “GE foods derived from GE plants in the U.S. marketplace today are as safe as their conventional counterparts."