Summary of the Senate Subcommittee Hearing on GMOs and Biotech 10/21/2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 @ 05:10 PM
posted by Beth Clay

A quick report on the Senate “Biotech” Food Regulations Subcommittee Hearing held today. (The POP Campaign submitted testimony to be posted soon)

Almost all of the members made at least a short appearance (except Mitch McConnell, maybe Thad Cochrane and maybe on David Perdue)

Rather than an ‘oversight’ activity, it seemed more like a lovefest of biotech food industry.  No partisanship on display.  The toughest question of the day was the patent question – i.e. how can it be materially different for US Patent Office but not for FDA?  Tepid response was not challenged.

Video and written testimony available at:

There was a long line of people to get in, but the hearing room was very large and accommodated the 200+ people in attendance.  About 50 of those likely were from the 3 federal agencies as they seemed to clear out after their panel finished.

It was obvious that this was a ‘pro forma’ hearing to lay the ground work for the legislation. Sen. Stabenow indicated she thought they would pass a bill by year’s end.  Sen. Hoeven indicated he is working on one.  Discussion in the line was that no democrat had yet agreed to cosponsor.

The talking points for the members took a different tone this time.  The prevailing themes:

  1. We have to feed the growing population world-wide – it is a national security issue.
  2. For democrats – Climate change was also mentioned.
  3. Numerous members asked government witnesses how everyone (including committee) can do a better job explaining biotech so that the public trusts that they are safe?
  4. Minor mention of increased food costs with labeling.

All 3 federal agencies say they have sufficient authority to regulate GMOs.  FDA witness did say that if the nutritional content was different, they would mandate labeling.

The government panel went on for 2 hours.

The public panel started with Mrs. Joanna Lidback, the female Vermont farmer – who it turns out only grows grass – not GMOs.  She is apparently is the industry darling because she has testified multiple times. At one time she admitted that she only plants grasses.

Daryl Thomas, SVP at snack food company Herr Foods ( a family owned business) turns out is married to the bosses daughter which meant he REALLY had to deliver the message to keep labeling voluntary.  His own senator (Sen. Casey) was not able to stay to hear him testify, but did stay long enough to introduce him and lend his support to the cause.

The only ‘opposing’ witness was Mr. Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Inc. who was there on behalf of Just Label It.  It covered all the important points- calling for a national mandatory labeling, factual , value neutral (like the EU – two word insertion in ingredients list).  He also mentioned how the voluntary guidance document issued in 2001 has just left industry to run amuck.  He underscored that companies change labels all the time and doing is not a big deal; he said the 64 countries that have mandated labeling are not seeing problems, and that the stigma concern is not valid.  The cost concern is not valid.

Mr. Jaffee from Center for Science in the Public Interest was also given a platform to testify (again) – testimony pretty much the same as the House version.  He wants more regulations, and he was the voluntary premarket review at FDA to be mandatory

The latest industry shill was Dr. Ronald E. Kleinman  Physician in Chief Mass General Hospital for Children Boston , MA  – not discussed at the hearing was that he has conflicts of interest.  His bio at Mass General states “He consults for the Grain Food Foundation, Sesame Street Foundation, Beech Nut, the Burger King External Advisory Board, and General Mills.”  This was not disclosed or discussed at the hearing.  He thinks that parents just need to be talked to and told that GMOS are safe…that our food supply is safe.

One of other issues brought up was pesticides.  The EPA talked about their role in regulating PIP crops – these are bioengineered to release a protein that kills one or more types of bugs/pests.  He says they are safe for humans, and have led to less pesticide use.

One of the Republican senators asked if Glyco was linked to cancer, and the EPA witness stated they did a review last year of the epidemiology research and did not find a link.  None of them brought up the other health risks, or the increased use of herbicides with GMOs. (except Hishberg).

Sadly, none of the Senators asked any tough questions.  It was like they knew they had to do this hearing since they had not covered the topic in 10 years, so they can check this off, let Hoeven introduce the bill, then move it through the Mark up hearing, and Check this off their to do list.


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