Protesters are pushing for GMO labels and the statebystate approach is unworkable Time for the federal government to act

Protesters are pushing for GMO labels, and the state-by-state approach is unworkable. Time for the federal government to act.

The labeling debate - a tech question?

Protesters are pushing for GMO labels, and the state-by-state approach is unworkable. Time for the federal government to act. Photo: Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock.com

A few months ago I wrote a blog about GMO labeling - we are a technology focused group - and got nary a peep from readers. You probably don't think the issue is that important? Or you think if the "greenies" keep losing that they'll just go away? Well, let's be clear, they're not going away and the industry needs to wake up.

We've come to a consensus in the ag industry that the best approach is get the label at the federal level, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is on record saying they'll not approach labeling for something already deemed safe. And while a vast majority of scientists note that the research is solid about the safety of GMOs there's worry in the food industry about labels.

While the government tries to figure this out, I want to touch on something important, that we in the farm industry can't ignore: a vocal group of consumers wants the label. For many there's a fear that a label will stop consumers from eating foods with GMOs. It might at first, but GMOs are in corn starch, soy protein and a host of other products that are required in the commercial food industry. Once the label is everywhere, consumers will be free to ignore it like they do all else on labels. And companies that want to tout non-GMO are welcome to do so. Farmers win in either case, they raise the products that go into both.

These groups aren't going away and state-by-state labels aren't the answer either. They will add to the expense of producing commercial foods. They do create confusion - for example in the Vermont labeling rules cheese will not have to be labeled as GMO even though key components of cheese-making have been very GMO for more than 20 years. The cheese lobby is strong in Vermont.

This week right after the election where voters killed one GMO labeling law in Colorado, but Oregon's appears it may pass I was watching The Chew - an ABC show at Noon that I sometimes watch as a "lunch break" and they discussed the labels. While I avoided some rhetoric that "big ag and big food spend millions to fight these" the consensus among these influential celebrities was that transparency was the answer - in essence put it on the label.

Now back to the label, in that previous blog I noted some issues to consider for labeling GMOs - if a food is made from GMOs but contains no genetic content from the source should it still be labeled? And how will it appear on the label so it doesn't appear as a WARNING? Those are issues to hash out with the FDA, through public comments and open debate. And when the label is done, it'll be something else consumers ignore.

Heinz took high fructose corn syrup out of their top product - ketchup - to answer protests, but as sugar costs rose and they saw no benefit to the change from consumers they switched back. Sales didn't drop. If the GMO label - in whatever form - is finally on food (with a federal mandate so it is consistent) perhaps after a few months the hubbub will die down - provided food companies don't knee jerk and remove all GMO content to avoid the label.

My conclusion: We need that federal label. And frankly consumers need to stop fearing technology. GMOs are safe and there are plenty of non-aggie food writers that agree. It's time to move beyond this issue, FDA needs to act.

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