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.

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