Foster’s Daily Democrat, 9/7/13
GMO labeling: One Seacoast mom’s practical pro-choice perspective
Saturday, September 7, 2013
As a mother of three small children, I am concerned about good nutrition and a healthy diet. I like to buy locally grown produce and organic foods whenever I can, even though this type of shopping is not always the most convenient or economical.
I appreciate the fact that as demand grows, it’s becoming easier to find organic and non-GMO products at my local supermarket. But while I support and purchase some organic and non-GMO products I still bristle at the impracticality of imposing a law that requires all products made with GMOs to be labeled as such. Products that don’t use GMOs already proudly proclaim that fact on their packaging, as do the certified organic products.
Should a GMO labeling law pass, mandating all products from private label rice to brand name breakfast cereals be labeled differently, manufacturers would need to design and print new packages at a cost they would pass along to the consumer in the form of price increases. Some manufacturers might stop selling in our state altogether, limiting our choices and hurting Massachusetts businesses as people head out-of-state to buy the products that were once available at the local Market Basket.
Furthermore, who is going to pay to inspect to make sure all of these products are properly labeled as GMO? I don’t think the state has enough funds in the budget to take on such a huge responsibility without increasing taxes more. And what happens to those that don’t comply? Will they be fined and make the changes? Or will they simply stop selling in our state? What happens when costs go up but our income cannot keep up? What does this mean for our state economically? Does state spending on an unnecessary labeling process take priority over education, social programs or upkeep of our bridges and roads?
To me, it seems far more efficient to focus on the positive and support the current process of labeling our GMO-free and organic products. This method has worked very well for Whole Foods: they have grown like crazy over the last decade. Maybe we can even save some money to help local businesses and encourage growth that will ultimately create more choices for us in the future.
Some of my good friends are very passionate and emotional about this issue, but I wonder if all the factors and implications of such a massive undertaking are being considered when they read a blog post or a Facebook update. The current process seems to be working quite well for both consumers and producers that offer GMO-free products — a process that represents natural, free market evolution.
With our economy still weak, I think any decision that adds cost and increases risks to our economy should be avoided. In this state especially, we are proud to make our own choices and across the board mandates such as a new labeling law seems both very impractical idea and an insult to our collective intelligence.
Labeling effort is confusing, misleading
By ROBERT JOHNSON
For the Monitor
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Imagine you are driving home from work. You decide to stop at a local farm stand to pick up your first fresh-picked ears of sweet corn of the summer. You arrive with anticipation, thinking about the fresh corn. But your expression changes as you approach the display stand. The ears look fresh and inviting, but something else grabs your attention. A sign conspicuously placed over the corn reading “Genetically Engineered.”
This scene would become reality at Massachusetts farm stands and farmers’ markets if legislation currently before the Massachusetts House Environment and Agriculture Committee, mandating genetically modified foods be labeled, becomes law. Proponents tout it as “right to know,” pro-transparency legislation. As farmers, we ask how anything so confusing and misleading can be seen as informative and transparent.
We have serious concerns that our customers would take one look at the sign and make any number of false assumptions. One assumption might be the belief that it speaks for all of the produce in the stand. A customer might walk away without truly understanding the intended impact. More information does not necessarily mean more knowledge or provide greater transparency. This might be considered a “right to know,” but in reality it creates confusion about what you think you know.
When customers have questions about biotechnology, we encourage them to speak with us. We encourage this in many ways, including through signage. These discussions are invaluable. We can explain firsthand, and often do so in detail, about how biotechnology works, the effects on our farms and on our quality of life.
Biotechnology can be explained as a continuation and refinement of the plant breeding that has been part and parcel to agriculture since its beginnings. With conventional plant breeding, a whole slew of genes are transferred. Genes are responsible for desired traits as well as unwanted traits. Biotechnology enables the precise transfer of specific genes. In each process, the plant genomes are altered. The difference is the tools that are used. Evolution and adaptation are constantly occurring in nature; biotechnology only speeds up the process. In light of a changing climate, this will only be more important in the future.
We explain the benefits of biotechnology on our farming operations and the environment by the application of fewer chemicals, less fuel consumed and less time in the field. One local young farmer sees quality of life in biotechnology. He laments that his customers are not yet to the point of supporting his growing genetically modified sweet corn varieties. He estimates that if they were, he would have an additional 60 hours each summer to spend with his young family.
The Massachusetts Farm Bureau makes the following broader points about HB 660 and biotechnology in general:
Only the federal government has the expertise and resources to regulate biotechnology. A patchwork of state regulations would be unworkable and result in needless increases in the price of food for all of us.
The bill is not necessary. Voluntary labeling of biotechnology already exists. By 2018, the fastest growing grocery chain in the country, Whole Foods Market, will require all vendors label their products to indicate if they contain genetically modified ingredients. Walmart, the largest food retailer in the country, is reportedly weighing a similar requirement. Industry is already making it happen. Consumers wanting to avoid genetically modified foods can purchase certified organic foods.
Mandatory labeling is misleading as it implies a health or safety issue. In the nearly 20 years since genetically modified foods have been a part of our food supply, not a single verified case of illness has been attributed to biotechnology. The Food and Drug Administration has continually upheld its safety, and last summer the American Medical Association reaffirmed its position that FDA’s “science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling.”
Claims that genes do not cross the species barrier in nature are false. Plant geneticists tell us tell us it happens in nature and is done by conventional breeders all the time.
Farmers must have access to the best technology to manage limited natural resources and increase productivity. Our success depends on public policies that are guided by science and that encourage the development and acceptance of innovative agricultural practices and solutions. As public policy, HB 660 fails this test.
(Robert Johnson is policy director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation in Concord.)
Secretary Paterson, an ardent supporter of Golden Rice, said, “It’s just disgusting that little children are allowed to go blind and die because of a hang-up by a small number of people about this technology.” He reiterated that there was no scientific evidence that GMOs posed any threat to human health or the environment.
In November 2012 California voters rejected the similar Proposition 37 by a narrow majority of 51.4 percent. “All we want is a simple label/For the food that’s on our table,” chanted marchers before the elections. The issue, however, is in no way simple.
We have been tinkering with our food’s DNA since the dawn of agriculture. By selectively breeding plants and animals with the most desirable traits, our predecessors transformed organisms’ genomes, turning a scraggly grass into plump-kerneled corn, for example. For the past 20 years Americans have been eating plants in which scientists have used modern tools to insert a gene here or tweak a gene there, helping the crops tolerate drought and resist herbicides. Around 70 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients.
The American Chestnut tree used to grow in vast numbers across most of the eastern United States. Today, however, it has all but vanished from its natural region. The Chestnut blight, which is believed to have been brought to America from China at the start of the 20th century, has laid waste to more than four billion of the once mighty trees. Advances in genetic modification, however, could be used to save this important species and restore its numbers.
However, there is one specific point regarding this matter that a lot of opponents bring up with which I disagree. They argue that those of us who support GM crops are anti-environment. I would argue that’s wrong, completely 180 degrees wrong. In the coming years, planting GM crops might indeed be the only way we will be able to feed a burgeoning population without devastating the environment.
I was reminded of this earlier this year in reading a piece in the Los Angeles Times about an activist who helped start the anti-GM movement in England in the 1990s, but has since had a change of heart. Last month at the Oxford Farming Conference in Oxford, England, Mark Lynas renounced his opposition.
GM Crops – Miner Report
Just when we thought that farmers wouldn’t plant any more genetically modified crops the percentage
(and most likely the acreage as well) of GM corn increased in 2013, to 90% of all corn planted.
Soybeans have been stuck at 93% for several years now. Consider these percentages as you mull over
the impact of the labeling law being debated in several New England states. From the above percentages,
it certainly seems that a high percentage of foods containing corn or soybean products (including corn
oil and soybean oil) must be made from GM crops. Changing this will be like stopping a runaway train.
One of the claims made against GM crops is that they’re responsible for all sorts of diseases including
obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
And it’s true that the incidence of these diseases or conditions has increased in the past decade or two.
However, Colleen Scherer, managing editor of “Ag Professional” magazine, notes that something else
that has increased tremendously in the same time period: The consumption of organic food! Does eating
organic food cause these diseases?
Of course not: Coincidence does not equal proof. But there’s as
much evidence supporting organic foods as the reason for increased disease incidence as there is for
GM crops: None at all.
Ev Thomas, Miner Institute Report