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Public Statements

Food Labeling

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, I understand that the distinguished chairperson of the sometimes powerful Senate Agriculture Committee will be on the floor to lock in amendment No. 965 by Senator Sanders.

I rise in opposition to that amendment. The amendment would allow States to require--let me emphasize the word, "require''--that any food, beverage, or other product be labeled if it contains a genetically engineered ingredient.

Now, that is how it is described mostly in this debate: a genetically engineered ingredient. I think it would be more accurately called modern science to feed a very troubled and hungry world.

We already have policies and procedures, I would tell my colleagues, in place at the Food and Drug Administration to address labeling of foods that are derived from modern biotechnology. The U.S. standards ensure that all labels for all foods are truthful and are not misleading to the public.

FDA has a scientifically based review process to evaluate all food products.

The Food and Drug Administration states:

FDA has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods are different 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 FDA reviews products and determines that they are safe. I think we need to trust the science of their review and allow this process to work.

The amendment by Senator Sanders would result in additional costs to food producers, and that is going to come right back to consumers. The FDA has determined that approved biotech crops are not materially different than conventional crops and therefore do not require segregation from conventional crops.

The only difference--if you have a bioengineered product, and let's say you come from Africa, one of the countries over there that continually has a very difficult time trying to feed themselves--the only difference is if you use a bioengineered product that makes that crop more resistant to heat or to rain or to a particular insect that is causing a lot of problems--you have a choice: You can have a crop or you can have no crop or you can have perhaps a crop with a pesticide or you can have a bioengineered product that is perfectly safe.

Furthermore, a change in policy would place additional costs on farmers by potentially requiring them to segregate crops and change their equipment. It would also be very problematic for grain processing facilities. I know some fail to recognize--and I know many criticize--the importance of biotechnology or criticize the safety of the product. I just say, let science be the judge. Each product goes through extensive tests to ensure safety to both human health and the environment.

There are different views, of course, on farming, and some of my colleagues in the Senate believe we should focus on those that only farm a few acres--the small family farmer; somebody about 5 foot 3 inches from Vermont--and then grow organic crops and sell them to the local farmers market. There is nothing wrong with that. I encourage that. There is nothing wrong with organic farming, and there is certainly nothing wrong with regard to farmers who farm less acres. God bless them.

However, if we are going to supply enough food for this growing population around the world--9 billion more people in the next several decades--we need agriculture of all types, and that includes organic and conventional and biotech crops. The more nations we can help to feed and bring economic prosperity, the more stable the world will become. That is good for our families, our Nation, and the world, and the world's stability. We can only do that through commonsense policies based on sound science that will allow our producers to do what they need to do to get the job done.

My colleagues--and I see the distinguished chairperson. I will conclude in just about 30 seconds. I am glad she is here. I will just say to my colleagues in the Senate that we should not be putting on lab coats individually and taking action on this amendment. We have a clear scientifically based review process that works. If we pass this amendment, probably in Vermont, California, you will have a requirement; some other States may or may not; in Kansas we will not, and so our State legislature would have no need of putting on lab coats.

At any rate, the FDA has guidance for voluntary labeling, and companies can choose to voluntarily label food and products if their customers want it, if they demand it. Let the consumer decide.

I urge my colleagues to reject this amendment.

I yield back.

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