Ranking Member Senator Debbie Stabenow did not mince her words in her opening statement to the Senate Committee on Agriculture's hearing on Ag Innovation and the Federal Biotechnology Regulatory Framework: "Innovation is the foundation of American agriculture."
The Senator from Michigan along with the Chairman of the Senate's Committee on Agriculture Pat Roberts led a hearing to discuss the federal regulatory framework for ag biotech and the importance of innovation to American agriculture.
Later in her opening remarks, Staebnow went on the stress the importance of transparency and establishing consumer trust in order for biotech innovations, like crops that are gene edited to be disease-resistance, to be accepted by the public.
"Biotechnology is safe, and it can improve people's lives, as we know. However, we need to be fully transparent in order to ensure consumers at home and abroad aren’t doubting the safety of these products. A broad coalition of biotech industry leaders, agri-business, and consumer advocates agree on this. Just last week they sent a notice and letter to urge the Office of Management and Budget to modify the self-determination provision because they understand the importance of transparent and consistent regulation."
BIO noted its commitment to transparency following the delivery of that letter last week, stating “BIO’s members are excited about harnessing the potential of biotechnology to solve big challenges, like mitigating climate change, improving biodiversity, and reducing food waste. We understand that for society to fully realize the benefits of food and farm innovation, science-based policy and public support must co-exist. BIO is committed to building the diverse coalitions needed to foster greater public confidence and bring new agricultural solutions to the market. "
We expect a final ruling on some products of ag biotech from the U.S. Department of Agriculture towards the end of March, and BIO continues to push for a regulatory system is science-based, provides transparency and works to build consumer trust.
You can read Stabenow's full opening statement below:
Innovation is the foundation of American agriculture—from breakthroughs in plant breeding to advances in crop rotation. Land-grant universities, researchers, creative farmers, have all revolutionized what we grow and how we grow it.
Today, agriculture faces many challenges that will continue to push us to the bounds of what is possible. We know we need to increase food production in a sustainable way in order to feed a growing global population that is projected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050.
At the same time, farmers are seeing the impact of the climate crisis, which makes growing the food we eat even more difficult. Biotechnology has the potential to help us increase our productivity while also helping farmers address the climate crisis. Drought-tolerant plant varieties can help farmers weather historic dry spells, as we know. Cover crops are being improved to have deeper roots to hold more carbon in the soil, creating new opportunities for farmers to sell carbon credits in the voluntary market.
In order to make the most of the innovative potential of biotechnology, consumers and are trading partners both need certainty. That’s why it’s critical to ensure our regulatory system is effective, that it's science-based, and transparent.
It’s also important to balance flexibility that encourages new product development with reliable standards that ensures products are safe. I’m concerned that the USDA’s proposed biotech rule—published last June—does not provide adequate oversight of our biotechnology sector.
The hands-off approach proposed by USDA lacks a strong scientific justification that consumers and are trading partners expect. I urge the USDA to include scientific support for the agencies’ approach when publishing a final rule.
I’m also deeply concerned that the proposed rule would allow developers of certain products to determine for themselves whether the regulations apply. Under the proposed rules, the company could make its own determination that its product is exempt from the rule. That product could enter the marketplace without any public notification or consumer awareness. I think many Americans will find that unacceptable and I’m concerned that many of our trading partners will as well.
As recently as 2013, farmers experienced enormous disruption when China began rejecting shipments of corn and distilled grains after finding trace amounts of a biotech trait that had been approved in the U.S, but it was still under review in China.
Right now, our farmers can’t afford to face any more barriers to trade.
I certainly support science, and I will say again: I support science.
And science tells us that biotechnology is safe. I’ll say that again: Biotechnology is safe and it can improve people’s lives, as we know.
However, we need to be fully transparent in order to ensure consumers at home and abroad aren’t doubting the safety of these products. A broad coalition of biotech industry leaders, agri-business, and consumer advocates agree on this. Just last week they sent a notice and letter to urge the Office of Management and Budget to modify the self-determination provision because they understand the importance of transparent and consistent regulation.
It’s really important to get this right and so I join in encouraging the USDA to listen to this broad coalition of stakeholders: modify the rule before publishing it in its final version.
This is such an important part of our economy and of the success of agriculture. And again, I want to ensure we get this right.
Testifying at the hearing were Greg Jaffe, Director of the Project on Biotechnology Center for Science in the Public Interest, Patrick Johnson Jr., Chairman of the Environmental Task Force for the National Cotton Council, Dr. Wayne Parrott, Professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at the Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics at the University of Georgia, and Dr. Michael Paustain, President of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
You can rewatch the full hearing here.