Jason Huffman | 04/14/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Jenny Hopkinson, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Esther Whieldon and Adam Behsudi
PERDUE’S GENETICALLY MODIFIED RULEMAKING: Should Sonny Perdue be confirmed as the next secretary of Agriculture, it will fall to him to end the biggest food fight of the past several years: GMO labeling. Congress passed a law last summer instructing USDA to finalize a federal disclosure standard for the presence of what it dubbed bioengineered ingredients, and gave the department until July 2018 to get it done. Lawmakers gave a definition of genetically modified ingredients and instructed USDA to allow companies to use a symbol, label or electronic disclosure to identify them. But Congress punted to USDA on a slew of issues, including what the symbol on the package denoting GMO ingredients should look like and the amount of genetically engineered contents a product must contain to trigger labeling – all of which will be left to Perdue to decide.
To be sure, he won’t be starting from scratch. Former Secretary Tom Vilsack made serious headway in crafting the rules before leaving office. When the Trump administration moved into the White House, it had waiting a notice seeking comment on what the rule should look like, though it has never been made public. And a study the law requires on access to information provided by electronic disclosures is already underway – a USDA spokesman tells MA that it is set to be completed by the July 28 deadline laid out by Congress.
But Perdue will have just 15 months to issue a proposal, take what are likely to be lengthy comments and put a rule in place. “They are being very cautious about waiting for the boss to get confirmed,” a pro-labeling advocate said. “This will be one of the things he spends a lot of time on, more than he should.”
In his favor: Everyone is tired of the fight. Food companies took a beating from consumers over GMO labeling, and now they’re primarily interested in getting the fight behind them. “We were comfortable in the end with how the bill came out of Congress,” said Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “The ask [to the administration] is to follow the law, and so far we’ve heard a lot about this administration about following the law.”