House to Vote on GMO Bill


By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The House Rules Committee voted Tuesday to advance S. 764, the genetically modified foods disclosure and labeling bill, to the House floor, setting up for debate without amendments and a vote this week.

The bill is a compromise written by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., that requires mandatory disclosure of genetically modified ingredients through on-package wording, a symbol or a link through a QR code to further information. It passed the Senate last week.

The bill will come to the floor under a closed rule, meaning no amendments will be allowed. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., offered an amendment for an open rule, which would have allowed amendments, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., offered an amendment to require on-package labeling rather than the QR code.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, noted that the House has a lot of business to do before Friday, and the Republican-dominated committee rejected both the McGovern and Polis amendments.

McGovern told the American Soybean Association earlier Wednesday that he expected his amendment to fail, but he also expects the bill to pass the House, which would make it ready to be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature. Obama is expected to sign the bill. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been a prominent backer of a QR code as a compromise to resolve the labeling issue.

McGovern told the soybean growers that he disagrees with the use of the QR code because it would be laborious for shoppers and many can't get digital signals everywhere. McGovern noted he cannot get a signal for his cell phone in the D.C. grocery store in which he shops. He also believes the food industry will ultimately adopt on-package labels.

"There are lots of stuff on labels that have nothing to do with science or health, but people want them there," McGovern said. "Sometimes when industry fights back so hard, it creates the impression they want to hide something."

Sessions also said he expects the House to be in session until after midnight Thursday, but he does not expect the House to be in session during the day Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Coalition for Safe, Affordable Food, the industry group that backs the bill, said in an email, "America's farming and food-producing community is united in support of the agricultural biotechnology solution now before the House, and we call on the full House to quickly pass this legislation before the end of the week so that the costs and reduced consumer choices in Vermont do not spread further."

As the bill comes under consideration, it has middle-of-the-road support, while both the right and the left oppose it for different reasons.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports the bill, announced last week it would score the vote in its evaluation of lawmakers. Heritage Action and Food Policy Action, which oppose the bill for entirely different reasons, also both announced they would also score the legislation as well.

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