Biotechnology – the application of recombinant DNA science to engineer specific traits in plant varieties – is an important tool for farmers to improve yield and profitability by reducing the use of costly inputs, improving weed management and reducing tillage for better soil, water and air quality. Today, roughly 90 percent of corn, cotton and soybeans grown in the U.S. have been improved through biotechnology, and farmers are choosing biotech traits when growing other crops such as alfalfa, sugarbeets and canola.
Despite rapid adoption by farmers and a strong scientific consensus that biotechnology does not pose health and environmental risks, regulatory burdens are slowing research and innovation of new biotech traits and are starting to reduce U.S. farmers’ international competitive advantage. In addition, activist groups have repeatedly threatened new traits by blocking science-based regulatory decisions, filing lawsuits and advocating for labeling mandates.
The national conversation about food with biotech ingredients has increased in recent years, along with state and local ballot initiatives or legislative efforts to require the labeling of biotech foods. There were over 70 bills pending in 26 states this year, with laws in Connecticut, Vermont and Maine already enacted. Vermont's Act 120, which would mandate the labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms, will take effect in July and food companies will need to begin implementing labeling changes in early 2016. A 50-state patchwork of GMO safety and labeling laws would be misleading and result in higher food prices for consumers, without improving food safety.
FDA’s longstanding policy on biotech food labeling states:
“FDA has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”
The world’s top credible scientific authorities—including the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the American Medical Association – have all concluded that foods with biotech-derived ingredients pose no more risk than any other food. Still, there are significant efforts to require labeling of foods with biotech ingredients. Mandatory labels would mislead consumers about the safety of biotechnology, erode the credibility of FDA and discourage consumer acceptance of new, beneficial technologies. Farm Bureau has opposed mandatory labeling efforts at the federal and state levels.
Farm Bureau supports H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. The bill, which passed the House in July, would provide a national framework for the voluntary labeling of GMO foods. The bill will preempt states from requiring additional GMO labeling standards. Specifically, H.R. 1599, creates a uniform, national system governing the premarket review and labeling of genetically engineered foods; requires developers of genetically engineered plants consult with FDA on all new plant varieties used for genetically engineered food before those foods are introduced into commerce; upholds FDA’s authority to specify special labeling if it believes it is necessary to protect health and safety; creates a new legal framework governing the use of label claims regarding either the absence of, or use of, genetically engineered food or food ingredients; allows those who wish to label their products as GMO-free to do so by through a USDA-accredited certification process; and requires FDA to establish standards for the use of the term ‘natural’ on food labels.
Farm Bureau urges Senators Casey and Toomey to cosponsor and support S. 2609, the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act, which would:
• Provide meaningful information to consumers about biotech products in the marketplace;
• Ensure consistency by creating a national labeling standard for biotech labels; and
• Eliminate consumer confusion about the foods they purchase.
Updated: March 2016