The following are among ASTA’s legislative priorities at the state level:
- Consistency of state laws and regulations
- Pre-emption of federal laws
- Labeling restraints
- Mandatory GE labeling
- Intellectual property rights issues
- Funding of enabling state infrastructure
- Crop-specific issues
Consistency of state laws and regulations
Primary to ASTA’s state legislative agenda is to ensure that state regulations relating to the seed industry remain consistent between the states. This allows for smoother interstate trade, equalized competition, and elimination of unnecessary, duplicative and burdensome regulations. The Recommended Uniform State Seed Law (RUSSL) is the preferred model for state seed regulations. RUSSL is a reasonable and progressive living document that protects consumers and allows standardization and predictability for the seed industry, while promoting uniformity at the state level for a commodity that routinely crosses state lines, often multiple times.
Pre-emption of federal laws
Seed produced in one or more states by the same company is often distributed through interstate and even foreign commerce. Seed distributed through interstate commerce must comply with labeling requirements, testing regimes and applicable standards established by or in accordance with the Federal Seed Act (FSA). Thus, the FSA can be interpreted implicitly to preempt state requirements that conflict with federal labeling rules and standards. And, the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution prohibits requirements that impose undue burdens on interstate commerce. The absence of express preemption in the governing federal statute, however, results in uncertainty and invites unproductive litigation between state government agencies and regulated entities.
It is important to the seed industry that consumer protection continues to be paramount and that compliance with state laws remains practical and consistent across state lines. Unique seed labels among states are unnecessary and duplicative; as such, the information would be unduly burdensome on seed companies. A requirement that is different in one state will cause companies to separately produce, track and distribute seed intended for sale in that state, which could also adversely impact the state seed industry and interstate commerce.
Mandatory GE labeling
The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) opposes mandatory labeling of food products because they contain ingredients that have been improved using genetically engineered technology.
ASTA believes that such mandatory labeling requirements are neither necessary nor scientifically defensible, and would run contrary to federal policy established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, it is ASTA’s view that any state law requiring mandatory labeling of foods developed through genetic engineering would create competitive disincentives in the state among different agricultural sectors.
FDA is the federal agency responsible for the safety and labeling of most human and animal foods and food ingredients sold in the United States. FDA issued a policy in 1992,stating that: “FDA has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.” The conclusion of the 1992 policy is that there is no need for additional labeling of foods developed through genetic engineering solely based on their production method.
Therefore, FDA focuses on the final food product and not the process that was used to produce the food product in determining how it should be labeled. Accordingly, FDA does not require labeling to indicate whether or not a food or food ingredient is produced through genetic engineering. FDA, however, would require labeling of the product if the modification materially changed its nutritional attributes, its safety, or other important characteristics. FDA allows voluntary labeling of bioengineered foods, as long as that labeling is truthful and not misleading.
Intellectual property rights issues
Strong intellectual property protection encourages the investment needed to continue crop improvements required to feed the world and to add value to agriculture and society through new products. Any state legislation that could undermine this simple principle is vigorously opposed.
Funding of enabling state infrastructure
The American seed industry has a long and rich history of producing quality products that meet rigorous seed standards, including purity. The seed industry as a whole is committed to delivering quality seed to agricultural growers and it strives to maintain complete integrity throughout the supply chain. In fact, seed companies operate their own quality assurance programs, including conducting their own internal seed testing to ensure that the seed label information is accurate. This involves conducting germination and purity tests using standard testing protocols established by the Association of Official Seed Analysts (AOSA). To support this position, the seed industry advocates adequate funding to ensure a comprehensive, proficient and technologically current state regulatory system.
The practice of growing, reproducing and handling seed products with different characteristics
or intended markets with the goal of successfully achieving intended product integrity and
maintaining the economic value of such products.
Crop specific issues
Occasionally, legislation is introduced that directly impacts production of a specific crop grown in that state. First of all, that action usually can be considered anticompetitive and potentially discriminatory among all agricultural sectors. Thus, the cost of the seed for farmers will increase and/or the availability of seed will decrease for that particular crop. Both of these outcomes penalize unnecessarily the many farmers producing high quality crops from such seed. It also penalizes all others in the seed supply chain, including dealers, as well as small and large companies. And, it can reduce the size, offerings and competitiveness of the state’s seed industry compared to other states. To the extent that increases in input and production costs are passed through the food chain, the bill also penalizes the state’s consumers.
As a rule, the seed industry supports the state seed licensing fees. However, fees collected over the amount necessary to operate a state seed regulatory structure are considered burdensome. Consequently, we generally oppose the “sweeping” of state seed fees to the state’s general fund, as well. Excessive seed sales fees could be considered a tax that will ultimately be paid by agricultural producers and general consumers because of the “trickle down” effect.
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