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Vermont GMO labeling law will set back America's food supply

By Mischa Popoff
web posted May 12, 2014

Look under the hood of every movement to forestall the use of genetically-modified grains and you'll find a preponderance of folks in the organic food industry. They are celebrating the recent passage of a law in Vermont making it the first state to require the labeling of foods made with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), and they're pretending this law will actually protect people.

But there is no such thing as contamination of an organic crop by GMOs. Organic farmers are certainly not allowed to make use of GMO technology according to rules written, edited and finalized by organic industry stakeholders over 10 years ago. But not a single organic farmer has ever been de-certified anywhere in the United States due to pollen drift from, or commingling with, a GMO crop.

There have been many legal suits, meanwhile, against conventional farmers for allegedly contaminating organic fields with prohibited pesticide spray. But none for alleged contamination by GMOs. Not one.

And it's not a mere technicality in the law that prevents such a lawsuit. It's the fact that such cross-pollination and commingling between an organic and GMO crop simply does not qualify, either from a scientific or regulatory perspective, as actual contamination.

Think of it like a bunch of Dixiecrat racists trying to keep African Americans out of their favorite lunch counter back in the 1960s. They might claim that African Americans are "impure" and that they "contaminate" their otherwise "pure" white surroundings. But science, and the law, both say we're all equal. And this is what the USDA's National Organic Program says unambiguously when it comes to GMOs. As long as organic farmers do not themselves use them, they are a non-issue where organic production is concerned.

Racism still exists. Likewise there are those who insist on a 100 percent GMO free diet, referred to proudly as "zero tolerance." One supposes this is their right, but they can't very well impose their views on others. So why, one must ask, are organic activists trying so hard to get GMOs labelled or banned if they pose no threat to organic farms, or to anyone or anything else?

It's precisely because GMOs pose no threat that activists have embarked upon a nationwide campaign to discredit this new, perfectly safe field of science which, ironically enough, already delivers on many of the organic movement's goals of reducing environmental toxicity and minimizing modern farming's footprint on the landscape.

This is the real reason why GMOs pose a "threat" in the eyes of anti-GMO organic activists; they could one day replace organics in the hearts of the American public.

After choosing to reject GMOs during the Clinton Administration, the collective aim of the organic industry has been to get foods containing GMOs banned or labelled like a package of cigarettes, thereby scaring American consumers into buying more certified-organic food.

Once a patchwork of GMO-labeling laws such as Vermont's is achieved, even in just a handful of states, food manufacturers will find themselves forced to label all of their products with a GMO label because it will be too costly to label food for states that have mandatory labeling, but not for the majority of states that don't. The tail will wag the dog.

The fact that roughly 70 percent of processed foods now contain GMOs should testify to their safety. But once a few more state labeling laws are passed, it's yet another reason we'll see all foods labeled — all foods except for organic ones.

Of greater concern is a proposal by Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas (R) to create a voluntary National GMO Labeling Plan with a threshold below which his bill would not apply. A threshold level for GMOs, even if voluntary, could backfire by implying that a problem does indeed exist with GMOs, otherwise why have a threshold?

The other consequence would be that activists could urge organic farmers who can prove a level of "contamination" above the threshold of Pompeo's law to sue farmers who grows GMO crops on the basis that this "contamination" prevents them from labeling their certified-organic food as GMO free.

There is no long-term upside to a national GMO-labelling law. Indeed, that's why the idea was rejected in Washington back when anti-GMO organic activists first began campaigning against them. It's only benefit will be to replace the perhaps inevitable state-by-state patchwork of GMO labeling laws. And all the while the people lobbying for these state laws already have a federal law protecting their choice of agricultural products: USDA Certified Organic.

Organic industry stakeholders wrote and accepted rules that prevent organic farmers from making use of GMOs. And surely that's the best way to leave things. The GMO and organic philosophies were both commercialized around the same time back in the late 1990s, and both have grown exponentially since. Clearly things are working as planned for both parties. Why change that at the state or federal level?

It appears that legislators in Washington like Pompeo, along with his Republican and Democrat allies, are trying to protect food manufacturers who would like to avoid state-by-state GMO labeling. But they're failing to appreciate that any GMO labelling law could be misused by the people behind no fewer than 26 state and county GMO labeling and banning campaigns underway across America right now. It's the law of unintended consequences. Less law is often better than more, especially when the status quo is, by all accounts, working splendidly for all concerned.

Not a single person has ever been harmed by genetically modified foods. But millions in the developing world are now experiencing a healthier, more nutritious diet as a result of them. And millions more of the world's undernourished stand to benefit as more advances are made in this field of agricultural science, advances like GMO Golden Rice which organic activists are keeping out of the hands of some of the world's neediest even though it will prevent a half-million children from going blind due to Vitamin-A deficiency every year.

Casting doubt on this wonderful advance in food production can only cause irreparable harm here and abroad. Activists in America should settle for the legislation they've already got rather than pushing for more. Enough is enough. ESR

This article was written collaboratively by Mischa Popoff, former USDA-contract organic inspector, Dr. Jay Lehr, Science Director at The Heartland Institute, Dr. Robert Zubrin, Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and Dr. Klaus Ammann, Director of the Botanical Garden at the University of Bern, Switzerland.






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