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Senate Ag Committee Reaches Deal on GMO Labeling Legislation

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

(North American Meat Institute)

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) last week reached an agreement concerning a genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling bill that, if enacted, would preempt state GMO labeling laws and establish a mandatory GMO labeling program within USDA.

The Senate bill would require some meat and poultry products to bear GMO labeling if one or more ingredients has been genetically engineered. The House of Representatives previously passed a voluntary labeling bill that would preempt state GMO labeling laws and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) previously stated his opposition to a mandatory label.

The Senate bill focuses on food for human consumption that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques, and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature. The bill would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish by regulation a mandatory GMO labeling program. The applicability provision of the bill identifies foods that would be subject to labeling.

In addition, the bill would prohibit food derived from an animal from being considered a bioengineered product solely because the animal consumed feed produced from, containing or consisting of a bioengineered substance. Multi-ingredient meat and poultry products, however, may have to bear GMO labeling depending on the product's formulation and whether any other ingredient has been genetically engineered.

The bill, for instance, would require meat and poultry products to bear GMO labeling if the predominant ingredient in the product formulation is not a meat or poultry component. Yet, since the meat or poultry component is often the predominant ingredient listed in Food Safety and Inspection Service-inspected products, the legislation's language likely exempts most basic meat products with multiple ingredients.

The legislation also would nullify Vermont's GMO labeling law, which takes effect July 1, and would bar any other state from enacting labeling requirements that differ from federal standards. Under the legislation, most food companies would have the option of disclosing GMO ingredients through either a digital code or through an on-package symbol or language. Food served in a restaurant or similar retail food establishment and very small food manufacturers would be exempt from the bill's requirements.

The Meat Institute, after consultation with its Executive Board, will support passage of the Senate legislation. As of press time, it is not clear when the Senate will take up the bill. If passed, the bill will proceed to the House, where members can approve the current version of the legislation, or go to conference to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills.

Individual companies interested in directly supporting this legislation can do so by signing on to the Congressional letter . Over 500 companies have joined so far. To add your company to the letter, e-mail Emily Reed at ereed@meatinstitute.org.

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