Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway Committee on Agriculture Hearing: To Examine the Costs and Impacts of Mandatory Biotechnology Labeling Laws

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Washington, DC, March 23, 2015 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good Morning. I want to thank each of you for being here today to discuss agricultural biotechnology.

Mankind has used biological technologies for more than 10,000 years to improve crops and livestock, and to make useful food products, such as bread and cheese, and to preserve dairy products. When applied to plant breeding, these technologies have led to the evolution of nearly every food product we consume.  These and other advances have enabled us to enjoy the safest, highest quality, most abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber.

As our knowledge has increased, so has the speed and precision in which we are able to harness natural capabilities to improve the plants we cultivate.These new applications of biotechnology have been available to American and international consumers for nearly 3 decades.  The safety of the technology has been confirmed by the world’s leading scientific and public health organizations including the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, and the Royal Society of Great Britain.

Many scientists and farmers are optimistic and enthusiastic about the prospects of using scientific advances in biotechnology.  The careful and precise addition of one or a few genes to a plant may make it more productive and nutritious, more tolerant to environmental stresses such as drought, and more resistant to disease and pests. These technologies can likewise improve the efficiency and therefore the productivity of agriculture, while at the same time reducing detrimental effects on the environment.

This Committee has frequently reviewed these technologies.  We have reviewed the regulatory mechanism in place since the Reagan Administration and have been repeatedly assured by the absence of any valid concerns regarding the safety or quality of products derived from these production methodologies. Despite the facts that are universally on the side of this technology, we would have to search long and hard to find another issue matching the negative rhetoric and aggressive tactics of the detractors.

In Washington and across the country, we are hearing a great deal of misinformation about so-called “GMOs” and the use of biotechnology in food and agricultural production. These unfounded attacks are not supported by the facts and mislead both consumers and policymakers. This misinformation could threaten our farmers’ ability to feed an ever-growing population and result in higher food costs for consumers.

Biotechnology is an essential tool for farmers to have in the toolbox if we plan to feed an estimated 10 billion people by the year 2050 in an environmentally sound, sustainable, and affordable way.  Unfortunately, threats exist to our ability to fully utilize this technology in the form of proposed Federal and State laws, as well as some State laws that will soon implemented if we don’t act. 

A recent report by the Cornell Business School examined the consumer cost impact of a proposed mandatory label for biotech food products sold in the state of New York. According to the study, implementing a mandatory biotech labelling system in the state would mean new costs for consumers in the checkout aisle. The report finds 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 will also factor into the increased costs consumers see in their annual food bills.  What this report does not reflect is the significant cost to food manufacturers associated with segregation and testing that will be passed back to producers; nor does it address liability costs borne by food producers and processors under the activist scheme.

As of today 26 states have some form of biotech labeling legislation pending. These proposals are loaded with arbitrary and inconsistent policies which would create an unmanageable situation for food producers, processors and distributers.  Consumers would ultimately lose as a result both of higher food costs and the very real likelihood that the technological innovation that has filled our grocery stores with an abundance of high quality products we enjoy would be stifled. As we examine the costs and impacts if States like Vermont move forward with mandatory labelling schemes, I think we will all agree that Congressional action to preserve interstate commerce through national uniformity is necessary.

Although I will introduce our panel in its entirety after opening statements, I do want to take a moment to discuss one of our witnesses…

Ms. Joanna Lidback is a dairy farmer from the State of Vermont and the author of a well-read blog on farming, food and rural issues. This is actually Ms. Lidback’s second appearance before the Ag Committee to discuss biotechnology.  I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Joanna’s courage in returning since some of you may be aware that after her appearance last year, Joanna and her family were the subject harassment, interfering with her young family’s peace. I consider the tactics of the anti-biotech activists who harassed you reprehensible, and I want to stress that this shameful behavior is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. Joanna, thank you for being here today and for your dedication to this important issue.

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