WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) on Oct. 21 called on the U.S. Senate to take action to establish a uniform, national standard on food and feed labeling, following the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing regarding the importance of biotechnology.

"The NGFA supports agricultural biotechnology and other scientific advancements that promote a safe, abundant and competitively priced food and feed supply," said NGFA President Randy Gordon. "Having a patchwork of differing state approaches to labeling of products that may contain biotech-enhanced traits would add tremendous inefficiencies and costs throughout the U.S. supply chain - from producers, grain elevators and processors to food and feed manufacturers, retailers and exporters - and ultimately increase food costs exponentially for consumers."

The senate hearing marks the fourth time in the past year that expert testimony to a congressional committee reaffirmed the overwhelming scientific consensus showing that ingredients in food and feed that have been produced using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for consumers and the environment.

“NCGA and Congress agree: consumers should have access to food choices that are safe, nutritious, abundant and affordable,” said NCGA Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action Team Chair John Linder, a farmer from Edison, Ohio. “Congress, and only Congress, can now prevent a costly and confusing patchwork of state labeling laws from taking effect next year. The Senate must act now to avoid the negative consequences inaction will surely bring for consumers and farmers across the country.”

During the hearing Pat Roberts, senate agriculture committee chairman, said agricultural biotechnology has become a valuable tool for farmers who need to produce more crops with limited land and water resources. "As we review these issues, we must continue to be guided by the best available science, research and innovation," he said.

"We have great confidence in the safety of GE crops that have been approved under the U.S. regulatory system," testified Michael Gregoire, associate administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

William Jordan, deputy director of the Office of Pesticide Programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said EPA relies on the best available science, extensive data, and independent experts when reviewing the safety of biotechnology traits for the environment. 

Susan Mayne director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration said, "We are confident that foods from genetically engineered sources in the U.S. marketplace today are as safe as their conventional counterparts."

Unless congress acts this fall, Vermont is set to become the first state in the country to institute its own mandatory GMO labeling law next July, and other states have passed or are considering their own labeling mandates NGFA said. Moreover, Vermont's labeling mandate has virtually no phase in period that takes into account the complex food supply chain.

"Commercial seed products currently on the market have enabled growers to increase yields of safe crops for use as food, feed and for further processing, while at the same time protecting the environment by decreasing the use of crop inputs and expanding conservation tillage," Gordon said. "These technological advances also have been successful in enhancing the productivity and competitiveness of U.S. farmers, grain handlers, processors and exporters, and provided substantial benefits to consumers in terms of food security and affordability.

"We encourage the senate to promptly consider legislation to avert what otherwise would be serious and extremely costly inefficiencies and disruptions in interstate commerce that would result if Vermont's law takes effect and other state or local governments adopt a patchwork of mandatory biotech-labeling schemes," Gordon said. "We continue to believe this can be done in a way that supports the right of buyers and consumers to exercise choice and preferences when purchasing agricultural commodities and products, while supporting all safe agricultural cropping systems." 

During the senate hearing, Debbie Stabenow a ranking member, said she is committed to passing legislation that prevents a patchwork of state labeling laws by the end of this year. She also said that the bill must include a method to disclose the information about biotechnology consumers are seeking, but does not stigmatize biotechnology.

The U.S. House of Representatives in July, with strong bipartisan support, passed its version of a national standard for food and feed labeling for those who voluntarily wish to label their products as either containing or not containing biotech-enhanced ingredients, a bill the NGFA strongly supported. The focus is now on the senate. The NGFA said it is encouraged by Sen. John Hoeven's commitment to leading efforts to enact a bill in the senate.