US GMO Food Labeling Bill Introduced

Last week on the last day of the BIO 2013 BIO Convention, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced legislation with bipartisan support Wednesday that would require genetically engineered foods to be clearly labeled.

“Consumers deserve to have clear, consistent, and accurate facts about the food products they purchase,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said in a statement. Blumenthal was one of 31 lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill.

Law makers and anti-GMO activists are responding to growing public concern about possible health risks associated with GMO foods. While there is no scientific consensus that foods made with GMO ingredients are harmful, activists argue that people have a right to know what they are eating. Link to the Reuters article.

“Food labeling policy should be based on logic and science, not fear. Leading scientific organizations have all agreed that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients are safe and are not materially different from their traditional counterparts.” – Dr. Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank tied to Stanford University.

Last month, grocery retailer Whole Foods said that it would require suppliers to label any product made with genetically modified ingredients. And the Natural Products Association, which represents 1,900 food industry players, has called for a uniform standard for GMO labeling to apply nationwide.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement opposing Whole Food’s labeling announcement:

“These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or potential risk.” GMA’s executive director of government affairs noted that many regulatory and scientific bodies such as the FDA, the World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association have deemed genetically modified products safe.

Labeling legislation is costing the industry, not only does it slow down the adoption of new technology, but fighting the multi-million dollar campaign lead by corporations like wholefoods and activists costs the industry money. Last year, the industry spent $40 million to defeat a labeling measure in California.

Unnecessary labeling would mean huge cost burdens for food manufacturers and grocers. Growers and processors would also likely be hit badly.

In the United States, the highest-grade corn can contain as much as 2% foreign material, like crop residues. In Europe, a food product can contain as much as 0.9% GM material and avoid a GM label. But California’s defeated Prop 37, a likely model for future labeling legislation, would have imposed nearly twice as stringent purity standards, tolerating only 0.5% GM content in non-GM food. Such a high purity standard would likely require farmers to invest in separate planting, harvesting, storage, hauling, processing and packaging equipment for GM production

Farming in Illinois is huge, and gm legislation will have a large impact on the community. According to the 2012 Illinois Farm Bureau Farm & Food Facts, annually the state is either the #1 or #2 producer of corn and soybeans in the U.S. Last year Illinois farmers produced 416 million bushels of soybeans and 1.9 billion bushels of corn, which totaled to $17.2 billion. Annually Illinois’ 74,600 farms export about $3.1 billion in soybeans and $1.7 billion in feed grains. Of the 1.9 billion bushels of corn produced last year, 85% was genetically modified (GM) in some way, as was 90% of Illinois soybeans. There are 8,000 Illinois citizens are employed in the agricultural feedstock and chemical sector, earning an average salary of $103,465. The sector has one of the highest employment multipliers; for every one job in the sector, an additional 9.6 jobs are supporting it in the community. The ag-feedstock sector contributes $28.4 billion in Illinois economic output and $572 million in state and local taxes. Our universities are drivers of innovation, increasing agricultural research budgets by 20.6% since 2006.

What we learned in California, is that as an industry we need to do a better job about talking about the positive impact that gm crops have on the world. One great forum for public education is the US Farmers & Ranchers Food Dialogue series.

On April 22, 2013, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance brought food luminaries from across the spectrum to the 2013 BIO International Convention for the first part of The Food Dialogues: Chicago. The panel discussion, titled “The Straight Story on Biotech in Agriculture: The Media and its Impact on Consumers,” brought together seven panelists and moderator Ron Insana, Senior Analyst, CNBC and Financial Industry Expert, to discuss all sides of this complicated issue. The panelists also answered hard-hitting questions from the audience and those following the discussion on Twitter and Facebook.

The panel of experts from multiple disciplines, including farming, media, science and academia, discussed what more can be done to give consumers access to information that matters and featured all points of view on biotech in agriculture – including those who are not in favor of this technology. I provided an overview of the session during the BIO convention, the whole panel discussion is posted below.

Labeling legislation has catalyzed the industry. Executives from Monsanto Co., DuPont, and Dow Chemical, among the world's largest developers of biotech crops and the chemicals used to help produce them, told Reuters this week they are putting together a campaign aimed at turning the tide on what they acknowledge is a growing public sentiment against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used as ingredients in the nation's food supply.

This is a conversation, not an editorial. Did I forget something, get it wrong or do you agree? Please Comment, Like, Re-Tweet and Share


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