Letter to the Editor: Bring common-sense to GMO labeling (Dave Ladd, RDL & Associates)

Republican or Democrat, most people in Minnesota will agree that public policy decisions should be made based upon sound science rather than hyperbole and emotion.

Unfortunately that does not seem to be the case when it comes to foods produced utilizing advanced agricultural technologies, referred to by some as food from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A number of states either have considered, or are considering, imposing labeling mandates for all food containing GMOs. Truth be told, these labels would be misleading, because they would create a baseless stigma around GMOs.

Labeling would have serious consequences for Minnesota agriculture and consumers and our state’s economy. In particular, small farmers could not afford to comply with the regulations that would come with GMO labeling and families would need to pay more for food because state mandates would force food producers to create multiple supply chains to comply with different regulations.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act is a step in the right direction and would create a uniform national program governing the premarket review and labeling of GMOs. It would require the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a safety review of all new plant varieties used for genetically engineered food before those foods are introduced into commerce, as well as create a new legal framework that would govern the use of label claims regarding either the absence of, or use of, GMO food or food ingredients. Not only would this legislation benefit Minnesota farmers but consumers.

A state-by-state approach, however, could lead to higher prices for consumers as producers and processors have to address different rules across different states.

The world continues to benefit from investments made by the U.S. to ensure the safety of its food system – benefits which have made the world a more food secure place than it has ever been in history. To the extent GMO labeling is instituted, it should not be done in a patchwork fashion and a federal standard that reflects a market-based solution is far preferable. Voluntary labeling allows competition and consumer demand to determine the solution.

Dave Ladd is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment. His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials.

Link: http://sunthisweek.com/2015/05/21/bring-common-sense-to-gmo-labeling/

Commentary: Science Is Best Hope to Feed the World Safely and Affordably (Representative Mike Pompeo)

Science, innovation, safety and affordability. Who could oppose United States food policy based on these core principles? Unfortunately, this idea has become unnecessarily controversial in agriculture. The unmerited fear of genetically modified organism crops threatens scientific advancements in biotechnology needed to meet the growing global demand for safe and affordable food. The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act aims to address unnecessary impediments to feeding the world.

GMOs play a central role in meeting the challenge of providing affordable and nutritious food to consumers all over the world. By the year 2050, food production needs to increase by 70 percent as the global population increases to a projected 9.6 billion people. Fulfilling this demand will either require massive new water supplies and acreage, or a better approach to using existing resources. GMOs provide the best hope for the latter to occur.

In my home state of Kansas, agriculture is among the largest drivers of the economy, each year producing products valued at more than $50 billion. Our farmers harvest more than 21 million acres of land and are feeding the world, exporting nearly $4.9 billion in agricultural products in 2012. Biotechnology is ushering in a world of new possibilities for farmers in Kansas and across the country. GMO products are increasing crop yields, and decreasing water and pesticide usage. Adoption of these crops resulted in a reduction of pesticide use by 46.4 million pounds in 2003 alone. And crops that require less irrigation would be welcomed in states such as California that are grappling with drought.

The promise of GMOs is even greater in the developing world. In these places of extreme poverty, millions of people struggle with hunger and malnutrition. Vitamin A deficiency is responsible for early blindness in young people and half will die from the absence of this basic vitamin. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently recognized the scientists who created the genetic modification known as Golden Rice — a rice modified to help the body create more vitamin A that could save millions in the developing world.

Despite the current and potential benefits of GMO crops, some activists continue to demagogue this technology and mislead people about its safety. Over the past 25 years, more than 100 research projects involving dozens of independent research groups have affirmed the same findings: genetically modified foods are safe.

Now opponents of GMOs are pushing for states to pass mandated GMO-labeling laws. This is unnecessary. The safety of GMOs has been proven, and a state-by-state patchwork approach to labeling would only serve to confuse consumers, stigmatize GMO crops and raise food costs. If there is not a health or safety risk, there is no justification for creating mandatory labeling that imposes costs on those who can least afford them, simply to satisfy the food choices of a few.

To reap the benefits of GMO technology, the U.S. must ensure that decisions about our food system are made based on science, not innuendo. This is why I, along with Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., introduced SAFLA. The bill continues to gain strong bipartisan support as it becomes increasingly clear that food labeling should be handled on a federal level. This legislation also has the support of nearly every organization whose duty it is to provide safe and affordable food. Our bill would affirm the Food and Drug Administration’s role in managing a science-based approach to food labeling, consistent with our nation’s tradition of requiring food labels only for health or safety reasons.

Perhaps just as importantly, SAFLA guarantees consumers’ right to know what’s in their food. Through a voluntary national certification program, SAFLA will create uniform rules and definitions for foods carrying a GMO-free label, allowing consumers to understand and identify those products that fit their food preferences.

Feeding the world will be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. It will be impossible without using scientific advancements and biotechnology. To affordably feed the next billion people, we must have higher yielding crops with even greater nutritional value. America should be at the vanguard of the innovative advances that will make this happen.

Rep. Mike Pompeo is a Republican from Kansas.

House Ag Committee approves COOL repeal (via FeedStuffs)

Just two days after the World Trade Organization announced its final ruling against mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat products, the House Agriculture Committee has approved a bill by a vote of 38 to 6 to fully repeal the labeling scheme.

Currently the law requires meat include a label which indicates where it is born, raised and slaughtered, but it is the segregation and recordkeeping requirements on Mexico and Canada which allowed the United States’ top trade partners to cry foul. The fourth and final appeal attempt by the United States failed and now allows Canada and Mexico to proceed with getting approval on retaliatory levels from the WTO.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway acknowledged in a conference business meeting that was evaluating the bill that some may say any action should wait until retaliation has commenced, which Conaway said he was unwilling to do. “We cannot sit back and let American businesses be held hostage to the desires of a small minority who refuse to acknowledge that the battle is lost,” he said.

Ranking member Colin Peterson (D., Minn.) was one of the six who voted against the bill, saying a full repeal was premature. During his comments before the committee he acknowledged that no one wants to see retaliation, but several steps still have to occur before that would take place.

“Given what we have seen in the past – it took 15 months for the Arbitration Panel to issue a ruling in the U.S.-Brazil cotton case – it’s unlikely the Panel will rule on COOL retaliation within their 60 day window.”

Peterson also said, “I don’t think this is the best way to avoid retaliation, and quite frankly, I don’t think the Senate will be able to pass a repeal.”

Conaway noted however that no other viable options have been proposed. “Frankly, it is now too late in the process to begin discussions which rightfully should have begun when we first lost in the WTO in 2011.”

Rep. David Scott (D., Ga.), who cosponsored the legislation, said it was time to stand up strong for the nation’s agricultural interests. “Retaliation is real with the threats ranging from meat to fruit to biofuels. The question is why would we want to put our agricultural foundation at such a disadvantage?” he asked. He added COOL has proven to be “all costs and absolutely no benefit to us.”

The National Farmers Union and R-CALF USA have come out opposing the bill. However, the COOL Reform Coalition including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., National Pork Producers Council and National Chicken Council have all voiced support for the full repeal.

Guest Commentary: To Label or Not to Label, that is the Question! (Bruce Tiffany)

If everyone raised their own food, we likely wouldn’t be having a debate regarding the labeling of crops that are produced using advanced agricultural technologies. You would know what you raised, how you raised it, and probably be thankful for the produce.

I have always said there are as many ways to raise food as there are recipes for preparing it. The fact is, not everyone raises their own food and never will so those that don’t must rely on those with the right skills and resources to do it for them. That is an important part of this whole discussion. In this country, less than 2% of the population is engaged in actual production agriculture, thereby implying that roughly 98% either lack the correct skills, resources, or both. That is not a bad arrangement because it leaves that same 98% to pursue what they do best.

Through trade, markets, and commerce consumers get to vote and indicate what they want so the producers can provide it. The problem comes when the people without the skills or resources tell the 2% producing the food how to do their job and try to legislate the methods that can or cannot be used even though we already have regulatory agencies that validate the safety of food production. This just does not add up!

Humans have forever weighed the risks and rewards of any activity. Think about all the things we do that have certain risks but we choose to do anyway. The simplest example is travel. People die every day traveling and it is tragic when something happens, but we still do it. We say the rewards outweigh the risks. Pick your activity or product and more than likely someone somewhere has been harmed by it. But, and this is important to note, for over 20 years, humans the world over have been consuming and using crops produced in part with bio technology and we have NOT had ANY ill effects. I cannot think of any product, practice, or technology that has helps feed, clothe, and facilitate life that has a better track record.

We are all a product of our experiences and my experience in growing and using biotechnology says it is safe and good for humanity. I could go on about increased efficiencies, smaller carbon footprint, and environmental benefits, and I could cite data and studies, but that is beside the point.

Now that we have established that bio technology is safe and extremely useful for humanity, the other part of the equation is choice. We are indeed lucky to live in this time and place where we can choose. You can choose most of your other activities and how you spend your hard earned dollars. Let’s say your experiences are such that you would rather have food without biotechnology. At this point, you CAN choose biotechnology, or not, simply by looking for the certified organic label or choosing to ignore it. Either choice gives you the assurance that regulatory agencies have ruled the food is safe leaving you to decide if it matches with your value perspective.

So, now it comes down to the real questions of trust and the right to know. As you may guess, my personal bias is that the system we have right now is fine. Hard liners in this discussion want all or nothing when it comes to biotechnology, but I don’t believe that is a reasonable approach.

I also don’t believe a patchwork bunch of rules from all over the country is workable. This would lead to confusion for producers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulatory agencies, and the most important group, the consumers.  Because we live in a republic and citizens’ opinions are supposed to matter, we often reach a compromise.

I believe we have that opportunity being offered in the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling legislation introduced by Representatives Mike Pompeo from Kansas and G.K. Butterfield from North Carolina. The short benefit of this proposal is that it would give consumers who choose not to have biotechnology involved in their food, a second label, “Certified GMO free”, in addition to the organic label. Therefore, they would be confident the food they are considering matches their value perspective. It would also set forth a well-defined system for a biotechnology approval process.

In the end, consumers can play a role in what they eat and what I produce and we can all get back to focusing on what we all do best!

Bruce Tiffany is a fourth generation farmer near Redwood Falls, MN.

USDA creates new government certification for GMO-free (via Associated Press)

 The Agriculture Department has developed a new government certification and labeling for foods that are free of genetically modified ingredients.

USDA’s move comes as some consumer groups push for mandatory labeling of the genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The certification is the first of its kind, would be voluntary — and companies would have to pay for it. If approved, the foods would be able to carry a “USDA Process Verified” label along with a claim that they are free of GMOs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined the new certification in a May 1 letter to USDA employees, saying it was being done at the request of a “leading global company,” which he did not identify. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

A USDA spokesman confirmed that Vilsack sent the letter but declined to comment on the certification program. Vilsack said in the letter that the certification “will be announced soon, and other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service.”

Companies can already put their own GMO-free labels on foods, but there are no government labels that only certify a food as GMO-free. Many companies use a private label developed by a nonprofit called the Non-GMO Project. The USDA organic label also certifies that foods are free of genetically modified ingredients, but many non-GMO foods aren’t organic.

Vilsack said the USDA certification is being created through the department’s Agriculture Marketing Service, which works with interested companies to certify the accuracy of the claims they are making on food packages — think “humanely raised” or “no antibiotics ever.” Companies pay the Agricultural Marketing Service to verify a claim, and if approved, they can market the foods with the USDA process verified label.

“Recently, a leading global company asked AMS to help verify that the corn and soybeans it uses in its products are not genetically engineered so that the company could label the products as such,” Vilsack wrote in the letter. “AMS worked with the company to develop testing and verification processes to verify the non-GE claim.”

Genetically modified foods come from seeds that are originally engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. GMO corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

The government says GMOs on the market now are safe so mandatory labels aren’t needed. Consumer advocates pushing for mandatory labeling say shoppers still have a right to know what is in their food, arguing that not enough is known about the effects of the technology. They have supported several state efforts to require labeling, with the eventual goal of having a federal mandatory label set by the Food and Drug Administration.

An Associated Press-GfK poll in December showed that two thirds of Americans support the labeling, while fewer said genetically modified ingredients are important in judging whether a food is healthy. Some of the respondents said their support of labeling was more about accountability in the food industry than the safety of GMOs.

Vermont became the first state to require the labeling in 2014, and that law will go into effect next year if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry.

The USDA label is similar to what is proposed in a GOP House bill introduced earlier this year that is designed to block such mandatory GMO labeling efforts around the country. The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., provides for voluntary USDA certification and would override any state laws that require the labeling. The food industry has strongly backed Pompeo’s bill, arguing labels would be misleading because GMOs are safe.

Pompeo said USDA’s move shows his approach is gathering support.

“I look forward to working with the secretary and with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that we come to the best possible policy to provide families in Kansas and America with clarity at the grocery store affordable and abundant food supply,” he said.

Consumer advocates who are pushing for mandatory labeling say the voluntary USDA labels aren’t sufficient to help consumers know what is in their food, arguing that labels that are on some foods but not others could just lead to more confusion.

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It campaign and co-founder of the organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farm, said the labels were a small step in the right direction but more is needed.

“Mandatory labeling of GMOs would allow consumers to vote with their dollars and have a say in the type of agriculture they would like to see in this country,” Hirshberg said.

Radio Interview: The Appropriations Process and Public Policy

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates was recently a guest on the Linder Farm Network to provide a brief update regarding the appropriations process in the United States Congress in relation to public policy initiatives.

For additional information, please contact RDL & Associates at (651) 247-5458 or via daveladd66@gmail.com.

Radio Interview: Avian Influenza outbreak, omnibus agriculture legislation, biofuels provisions, water quality and wolf management.

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates was recently a guest of KTLF Farm Director Scott Colombe to discuss recent developments related to the Avian Influenza outbreak, omnibus agriculture legislation, biofuels provisions, water quality and wolf management.

For additional information, please contact RDL & Associates at (651) 247-5458 or via daveladd66@gmail.com.