The Farm Bill: Where Are We?
The Farm Bill is moving forward. Unlike the House, the Senate, on June 28, easily passed their version of the Farm Bill. The vote was 86 to 11 in favor of the bill. Interestingly, all 11 “no” votes came from Republicans. In the House, not a single Democrat voted for their version of bill. In the Senate, the chair and ranking member of the committee worked closely together to develop a bill that could gain the 60 votes needed for passage. Looking at the research title, it is largely a reauthorization of current programs. Two places where the Senate version differs from the House version are as follows:
- It authorizes the Genome to Phenome Initiative and includes both animal and plants. The House bill was limited to plants.
- It reauthorizes the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which the House version did not, and
- provides $200 million in mandatory funds until expended for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research,
- requires additional stakeholder notice, and
- requires a strategic plan to be submitted to Congress.
The next step will be to take the competing bills to conference to work out the differences. It is anticipated that the most difficulty will come in reconciling different approaches to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In spite of a recovering economy, food insecurity remains an issue for millions. This is a major reason why SNAP is such a contentious issue. Despite the differences, there is optimism on both sides of the aisle that a bill will come out of the conference committee that can pass both houses before the end of August.
The Bioengineered Labeling Law
The USDA is tasked with establishing a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard by July 29. The GMO labeling law passed by Congress mandated that the rule requiring food labels to list GMO ingredients be finalized this month, but that seems very unlikely given the volume of comments received. A total of 14,008 comments were submitted, which will need to be reviewed before the final rule is ready.
The regulations will set the standards for what needs to be disclosed and provide companies options—either on-package or via a special code such as a QR symbol that takes users to online information. Questions that the USDA will have to resolve include whether foods containing highly refined ingredients (e.g., canola oil) will have to be labeled as well as what the label itself will look like. The USDA has proposed using "BE," for bioengineered, instead of the more widely recognized term "GMO." Proponents of the "BE" term say it is more accurate because it can be considered a catchall for different types of modified foods beyond GMOs, such as food produced using CRISPR technology. Critics, on the other hand, argue that using "BE" is "dishonest" because most consumers are not familiar with that term.
There has been substantial debate over whether mandated labels might increase or decrease consumer aversion toward genetic engineering, so it will be interesting to see the impact as the rule is implemented. Research at the University of Vermont recently published in AAAS’s Science Advances (Kolodinsky, J., and J. L. Lusk. 2018. Mandatory labels can improve attitudes toward genetically engineered food. Science Advances 4: eaaq1413; https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaq1413) sought to help resolve this issue using a data set containing more than 7,800 observations that measured levels of opposition in a national control group compared with levels in Vermont, the only US state to have implemented mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Difference-in-difference estimates of opposition to genetically engineered food before and after mandatory labeling showed that the labeling policy led to a 19% reduction in opposition to genetically engineered food. The findings help provide insights into the psychology of consumers’ risk perceptions that can be used in communicating the benefits and risks of genetic engineering technology to the public.
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – June
A major activity during the month, beyond monitoring the Farm Bill and other events in DC, was preparation for and participation in the ADSA Annual Meeting. Science Policy Committee material and reference material on the value of agricultural research were available at the FASS booth in the exhibit hall. The committee chair and science policy coordinator were available at scheduled times and at other times throughout the meeting to visit with attendees to discuss current and future committee activities as well as congressional action related to agricultural research and funding for research. Information about the FASS SPC Webinar and a link for viewing the recording were available at various locations at the meeting. We sought to do was to begin to develop a list of members with an interest in advocating for science policy in the future. If you are interested in being a FASS science policy advocate, please email the following information to Ken Olson at email@example.com:
FASS Science Policy Advocates
I am interested in contacting members of Congress via (choose one)
As a reminder, you can check out the FASS SPC Webinar “The Impact and Role of Public Funding in Agriculture and the US Economy” by going to https://www.fass.org/Science-Policy and scrolling to and clicking on “March–Webinar.” We encourage you to share the link with others who may have an interest in research.
For additional details, contact
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS; FASS Science Policy Coordinator
John P McNamara, PhD; Chair FASS SPC