Congress finally passed the GMO disclosure legislation after one of the most difficult agricultural negotiations ever conducted between Senate Republicans, led by Agri-culture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (KS), and Democrats, led by Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (MI).
On July 7, the Senate passed the compromise bill by a vote of 63 to 30. Chairman Roberts noted it was the most important piece of legislation in 20 years to come out of the Agriculture Committee. On July 14, the House passed the Senate bill without amending it by a vote of 306 to 117. The President will sign the bill in July. Your American Sugarbeet Growers Association played a key leader-ship role in the development and passage of the bill.
What does the bill do and how does it impact the U.S. beet sugar industry?
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
First and most importantly, the bill provides for federal pre-emption of state or subdivisions of states from establishing labeling requirements of biotech foods or foods derived from biotech plants. No state legislature or ballot initiative to require labeling of GMOs — past, present or future — is legal. So all of the valuable time and money needed to fight these initiatives are no longer needed. This is a huge threat removed from the American farmer and food manufacturer.
Second, no disclosure of biotech foods or ingredients will be required until the Secretary of Agriculture finalizes the regulations, for which he has up to two years to complete.
Third, the law requires that food intended for human consumption that meets the statutory definition of a “bio-engineered food” must disclose that it is a bioengineered food. The food manufacturer has the option of selecting one of three forms of disclosure on the label or package:(1) written text, (2) a symbol, or (3) an electronic or digital link (e.g., Quick Response (QR) code, bar code, website, 1-800 number, etc.) that provides access to a product information page that can provide more information about the safety and environmental benefits of the technology.
Fourth, the law defines a bioengineered food as a food that contains genetic material (i.e., transgenic DNA or proteins) that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding. The fact that a food is produced or derived from genetic engineering is not the determining factor as to whether a food meets the statutory definition of a bioengineered food.
Fifth, the law gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to include beet sugar refined from GE sugar-beets in the national disclosure program. To be a bioengineered food subject to the disclosure requirements, however, by definition the food must contain genetic mate-rial (i.e., transgenic DNA or proteins). The law also directs the Secretary to determine the threshold amount of genetic material necessary to be present in a food to re-quire such disclosure. While the threshold of genetic material in a food that would trigger the need for disclosure has not yet been established, multiple scientific studies have shown that the beet sugar extraction process re-moves all plant DNA regardless of whether the sugarbeet plant is conventional, organic or transgenic. The science has, therefore, shown that refined beet sugar does not contain transgenic DNA or proteins. The expectation is that the science will support the conclusion that beet sugar re-fined from GE sugarbeets does not meet the definition of a bioengineered food subject to the disclosure requirements.
Sixth, Congress gave the Secretary of Agriculture (USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service), rather than the Food and Drug Administration, the authority to issue regulations implementing the new disclosure law because this is a marketing issue, not a food safety issue. FDA’s regulatory authority over food and food labeling is focused on the safety, health and nutrition of the food. Since 1992, FDA has repeatedly maintained that foods derived from genetic engineering are no different from, or any less safe than, other foods. For these reasons, FDA does not re-quire foods that are bioengineered or that contain ingredients that are bioengineered to be labeled. The new law expressly mandates that a bioengineered food or a food produced or developed with the use of bioengineering can-not be treated as more or less safe than its conventional counterpart.
Seventh, some countries do require beet sugar refined from GE sugarbeets to be labeled, but do not do so be-cause they believe that the sugar is less safe than beet sugar from conventional or organic sources. Rather, in many instances the labeling requirements are designed to create market differentiations or non-tariff trade barriers to protect domestic markets. Countries that are not motivated by domestic market issues have made science-based decisions on whether beet sugar refined from GE sugar-beets should be labeled. For example, the Japanese, Australian and New Zealand governments have exempted sugar produced from GE sugarbeets from their mandatory GMO labeling requirements because of the absence of transgenic DNA and protein in the sugar.
Finally, the law applies only to “food,” as that term is defined by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, that is in-tended for “human consumption.” The byproducts of the beet sugar extraction process, e.g., GE beet pulp, that are sold as animal feed are not subject to the disclosure requirements of the new law. In addition, the new law explicitly exempts from the definition of a bioengineered food any food derived from an animal that consumed feed produced from or containing a bioengineered substance. Thus, the food derived from animals (milk, eggs, etc.) that consume GE beet pulp, corn or soy would not be considered a bioengineered food.
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.