Tuesday, November 18, 2014

President's Op-Ed

GMO Labeling Measures Fail in Oregon, Colorado
by Frank Priestley, President, Idaho Farm Bureau
Ballot measures requiring labeling of food made with genetically modified ingredients recently failed in Colorado and Oregon. California and Washington voters rejected similar measures in recent years and now nearly half of all states have considered labeling requirements.
Only one state, Vermont, has passed a law requiring GMO labeling. It’s facing a legal challenge there and is not slated to take effect until 2016.
In Oregon, one of the nation’s most liberal states, the measure lost by a narrow margin. Many pundits thought a labeling bill had a good chance of passing there. In Colorado the measure was defeated by a two to one margin. Millions of dollars have been spent both advocating for GMO labeling and defending the status quo. So what is the takeaway message from this effort to implement state labeling laws?
In our opinion, this trend of turning GMO ballot measures down is in part due to the fact that it’s confusing to voters. However, for others who take the time to educate themselves about this complex issue, they learn that the advocates are trying to solve a problem that does not exist. Let’s look at biotech sugarbeets as an example. The crop is engineered to resist applications of herbicide or weed-killer. After sugarbeets are processed, which is a method of grinding them up and cooking them down into a syrup and then refining that syrup into sugar, there is no trace of any genetic modification of the plant left. The same is true with all of the other genetically modified crops that are processed into food products also to include meat and dairy products.
When livestock are brought into the equation the ability to label products becomes slightly more complex. Some state ballot measures would have required labeling of products that come from livestock that consumed genetically modified feed. Others would not. This is where the complexity of labeling food gains momentum and turns voters off. Livestock producers have been feeding cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens genetically modified corn and soybean meal for over 20 years now. Genetically modified feed makes up a significant percentage of the feed produced in the USA. Science can’t tell the difference between meat, milk, cheese and other products that came from cows that ate genetically modified feed and products that came from livestock that didn’t. And if genetically modified feed caused health problems in livestock, as some labeling advocates allege, it would surely have surfaced by now – it’s been over 20 years after all.
One of the problems with individual states adopting labeling legislation is that the country would wind up with a patchwork of different laws. This would put a lot of strain on companies that package, transport and distribute our food, which would add cost for consumers.
There are several other problems that arise from labeling food that has no discernable difference from other food. However, for consumers who want to avoid food products that contain GMO ingredients, following are a few simple rules: Shop around the outside aisles in the grocery store and avoid processed foods. Livestock feed and ethanol make up the bulk of the end products derived from genetically modified crops in this country. There are very few genetically modified fruits and vegetables available at the present time. Get to know local farmers by shopping at farmers markets, ask them questions about their production methods and buy meat and dairy products locally. Take an active role in understanding where your food comes from and how it’s produced and you’ll soon realize that more government intervention in our lives is rarely if ever a good thing to advocate.

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