Who’d have guessed the Senate farm bill debate would bring out so much of what’s wild and free inside the sober men at the top.
Thus far, the minority leader has been happy to let his younger, more naturally freewheeling tea party colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), walk point for him on hemp. But with the Memorial Day recess looming, Democrats wanted McConnell to speak for himself — if the amendment is to be added to the mix.
All this began playing out Thursday morning even as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shot up a few eyebrows himself.
To the surprise of the biotech industry, Reid switched from a year ago and joined in support an effort by Vermont liberal independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to allow states to impose their own labeling on food products with GMO ingredients.
The measure failed 27-71, but Reid’s vote stood out together with that of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who also changed from last year. Indeed, with the exception of Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the top Democratic leadership in the Senate now appears sympathetic to greater GMO labeling.
Reid’s good friend Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has filed her own sense-of-the-Senate amendment to the farm bill amendment urging the development of a federal labeling standard. And at one level, the vote on the Sanders proposal appeared to be the opening shot in what could become a larger fight on GMO labeling.
Acting on behalf of his state Legislature, Sanders argued there was nothing “radical” about his language and similar labeling requirements already exist in “dozens and dozens of countries throughout the world, including our closest allies in the European Union.”
Taking a shot at Republican opponents across the aisle, Sanders said, “This amendment should be supported by those people who, in fact, believe in state’s rights.”
But opponents argued that the end result would be a checkerboard set of state laws and Congress should trust in the safety reviews conducted now by the Food and Drug Administration.
“I believe we must rely on the FDA’s science-based examinations before we make conclusions about food ingredients derived from genetically modified” crops, said Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told his colleagues: “Let science be the judge.”
“We shouldn’t be putting on lab coats individually and take action on this amendment,” Roberts said, adding that genetic-engineering can be hugely important to battling hunger around the world.
“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,” Roberts said. “The more nations we can help to feed…. the more stable the world will become.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/05/hemp-gmo-labeling-debates-hit-farm-bill-91830.html#ixzz2UAJ1mtu1