Today, the House Committee on Agriculture held a public hearing to examine the costs and impacts of states implementing mandatory biotechnology labeling laws. In 2014, 125 bills mandating the labeling of biotechnology were introduced in 30 different states. According to a report by a Cornell Business School professor, shifting from the current voluntary system to a mandatory system in New York State would significantly increase food costs. The report found that a family of four in New York State could pay, on average, an additional $500 in annual food costs if mandatory labeling becomes law. The state would also incur an estimated $1.6 million in costs from writing and enforcing new regulations and litigating potential lawsuits related to mandatory labeling, which could run as high as $8 million and would likely be passed onto consumers.
The committee recognizes the desire among some consumers for more information about food. Voluntary marketing programs already exist in the Department of Agriculture that provide consumers with this information in an effective and affordable manner, such as the National Organic Program. “This growing patchwork of mandatory state laws is creating confusion and driving up the cost of food, harming the most vulnerable Americans,” Chairman Conaway said. “Our farmers and ranchers produce the safest, most affordable and most abundant food in the world. Unnecessary and conflicting regulations will only make it harder for our farmers and ranchers to feed America and the world. These state laws are not based on science and are both inconsistent and misleading. We have a federal regulatory process for the approval of biotechnology that is both scientifically sound and works. It is incumbent on us to make sure that the system is not undermined. These state laws are a tangible threat to American agriculture and all of us who depend on it.”
Biotech, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Davis (IL-13) is playing a central role on this issue. “Biotech labeling is an important issue that we cannot afford to get wrong,” Davis said. “A patchwork of inconsistent or unnecessary regulations from states could add hundreds to a family’s grocery bill each year. As we continue this discussion regarding labeling, we must remember the benefits biotech has on our environment and the role it plays in feeding a growing population.”
Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson said in his opening statement, “This is an issue that I hope that we can find a way to address because if we don’t we’re going to have 50 states with 50 different labeling programs and that’s just not going to work. If we don’t do something to stop this we could end up with something similar to what we’re seeing with California’s egg standards.”
The added costs imposed by mandatory labeling for genetically-modified organisms could increase the price of food to consumers while driving smaller farms out of business, according to Vermont dairy farmer Joanna Lidback.
We would want the choice of the best seed regardless of breeding technology; genetic engineering offers the best options,” she said, explaining that their 200 acre farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom has a shorter growing season that limits the variety of crops they can grow. If marketplace demands were to force them to use non-GMO feed grains – most of which would be certified organic – the farm’s feed bill would more than double each month, from $5,328 to $12,000.