BRUCE KRUPKE: VERMONT ACTING RASHLY ON GMO LABELING
The recent signing of the food-labeling bill by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is unfortunate on many levels. Gov. Shumlin had a chance to show real leadership before making the decision to sign the bill into law, mandating labels for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). He chose to act rashly, failing to seriously consider the consequences and impact on all Vermonters and visitors. By signing the law he has jeopardized the livelihood of Vermont’s small businesses, dairy farmers, food manufacturers, retailers and most importantly consumers.
The law is scheduled to go into effect in 2016. Ironically the governor could have wisely decided to sign the bill after a one-year moratorium, and then let the national debate play out in Washington, allowing the issue to be researched and better understood. Instead the governor, lawmakers and consumers were swayed by scare-mongering tactics rather than good scientific fact-based arguments.
If lawmakers had taken the time to do due diligence in their research, they would know GMOs are not ingredients in foods. They are part of the food manufacturing process. That’s true for corn grown for cows to eat, or corn syrup or canola oil used for producing and cooking foods we all have been consuming for many years now.
The United States doesn’t mandate different nutrition information labeling or ingredients for each state. The standards and requirements are uniform for all states, set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA establishes rules and regulations only after thorough research and scientific study. The same standard should be used when it comes to GMOs in our foods. Any regulation should be set on a national level, not a patchwork of states. Proposed laws to regulate GMO labeling are being debated in Washington.
The Council of Agricultural Science and Technology, a non-profit organization of scientific societies, non-profit trade organizations and others — just published a comprehensive report on potential impacts of mandatory food labeling of genetically modified foods in the U.S. The report substantiates: There is no science-based reason to single out GMO foods and feeds for mandatory process-based labeling; consumers already have non-GMO choices in organic-labeled products. Mandated labeling will increase consumer costs at the checkout line. GMO foods have been found to be as safe as conventional foods.
The authors conclude, “Independent objective information on the scientific issues and the possible legal and economic consequences of mandatory GE food labels need to be provided to legislators and consumers, especially in states with labeling initiatives on the ballot, to help move the national discussion from contentious claims to a more fact-based and informed dialog.”
Additionally, seemingly lost in the debate were the socio-economic and environmental impacts that GM crops have had, not just in Vermont, but also globally. In a new report released by PG Economics Ltd., a leading voice on agricultural production systems and plant biotechnology policy, the authors, who have studied GM technology since its first implantation, conclude:
GM technology has had a significant positive impact on farm income. In 2012, the direct global farm income benefit from GM crops was $18.8 billion. This is equivalent to having added 5.6% to the value of global production of the four main crops of soybeans, maize, canola and cotton. Since 1996, farm incomes have increased by $116.6 billion.
GM traits have contributed to significant reduction in the environmental impact associated with insecticide and herbicide use on the areas devoted to GM crops. Since 1996, use of pesticides on the GM crop area was reduced by 503 million kg of active ingredient (8.8% reduction), and the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops, as measured by the EIQ (Environmental Impact Quotient) indicator, fell by18.7%.
GM technology has positively impacted our carbon footprint. In total, in 2012, the combined GM crop-related carbon dioxide emission savings from reduced fuel use and additional soil carbon sequestration were equal to the removal from the roads of 11.88 million cars.
In the quest to take the lead, and pass and sign the mandatory labeling law that has no safety triggers or rational compromise, Vermont lawmakers showed a lack of leadership that may have very costly legal and food cost repercussions in the future.
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Bruce Krupke, executive vice president of the Northeast Dairy Foods Association Inc., a regional group representing dairy product processors, manufacturers and distributors since 1928.