Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway: Committee on Agriculture Business Meeting: To Consider H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015

Jul 14, 2015 Issues: Biotechnology

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. 

Today we will consider the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. I’d like to first commend the sponsors, Representatives Mike Pompeo of Kansas and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina for their hard work and leadership.  I would also like to thank Ranking Member Peterson, Subcommittee Chairman Davis and Subcommittee Ranking Member DelBene for their leadership. The legislation has evolved considerably from when it was first introduced in the last Congress.  We have a version introduced in March; a discussion draft released last month by the Energy and Commerce Committee; and finally the version we will consider today as an amendment in the nature of a substitute.  This has been a truly bipartisan effort between the Agriculture Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee.  The cooperative spirit in which these discussions have taken place is a rare, but welcome commodity.

For some time now, this Committee has been evaluating issues related to genetic engineering.  We have heard repeatedly about the vast benefits of this technology.  We have examined the regulatory process in place to ensure the safety of products derived from this technology.  We have considered the barriers to interstate and foreign commerce with these products.  And we have met with consumers and other interest groups to discuss their views related to agricultural biotechnology.

We have learned many things from our oversight, but chief among them is that some consumers are seeking more information about these technologies.  More importantly, there is no reason why we shouldn’t make efficient use of the resources of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to provide information about genetic engineering in much the same way we provide information about organic production methods.

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has long been in the business of assisting producers to develop programs and tools to take advantage of market opportunities. The Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Subcommittee recently examined the programs of the Agricultural Marketing Service.  The Subcommittee concluded that the agency has the resources and expertise to develop and administer a robust marketing program for those wishing to notify consumers of the presence or absence of genetically engineered ingredients in their food products.  What the agency doesn’t have is the law to make it work uniformly across the country like we did 25 years ago when we passed the Organic Foods Production Act.

As this Committee has repeatedly observed, the keys to success in any marketing venture are voluntary participation, robust, transparent and meaningful standards, and comprehensive enforcement to ensure compliance.

The legislation before us hits all of these marks.  In developing this program, we likewise address the very real threat to interstate commerce posed by the impending implementation of a State law in Vermont.

In testimony before this Committee, multiple representatives of the food and agricultural sectors commented on the cost burden that would be placed on our food system if we were to allow the 50 States, more than 3000 counties and nearly 20,000 towns and cities in the United States to establish their own laws regulating interstate commerce.  I believe we all understand the importance of free and open commerce between the States.  By creating a uniform national policy regarding biotech labeling, the legislation before us will allow consumers access to meaningful information, create market opportunities for those on the production and processing side, but most important of all will facilitate future innovation in this sector.

We all recognize that the overwhelming consensus within the science community is that these biotech products are safe.  We likewise understand that each and every biotech product in the marketplace today has been reviewed thorough a voluntary food safety consultation process at the Food and Drug Administration.  To provide consumers with an affirmation of food safety, this legislation would require technology providers to make use of this consultation process by making it an unlawful act to commercialize the product if they don’t.

As I stated at the outset, the amendment in the nature of a substitute we will consider is a product of bipartisan cooperation.  In crafting this substitute, we have received technical assistance from both USDA and FDA, and we have received input from a wide range of constituent groups including both organic and conventional agriculture, food processors and distributors, scientists and consumers.  I am pleased that later today I will be adding my name as a cosponsor and urge all of my colleagues to do likewise.

I now yield to the ranking member for any comments he wishes to make.