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My Turn: Lawmakers aren’t buying anti-GMO scare tactics

On Nov. 6, the New Hampshire House Committee on Environment and Agriculture dealt a blow to an effort in New Hampshire to require the labeling of genetically modified foods or foods that contain GMOs.

Despite the well-funded efforts by folks like Gary Hirshberg who argue that “New Hampshire has the opportunity to ensure that citizens’ rights are protected above all,” legislators in New Hampshire do not seem to be buying it. As Rep. Jane Johnson, a Swanzey Republican said, “For New Hampshire to mandate labeling at this point in time is a rush to judgment.”

Johnson and her 11 colleagues who voted against the measure clearly realize that consumers deserve a debate based on science, not clever marketing slogans designed to drive market share to organic giants like Hirshberg’s Stonyfield Farms. Science, just like citizens, deserves protection and should not be vilified by a narrow and well-funded few seeking to advance their own agenda or line their pockets.

In the broad push to regulate biotechnology to the dustbin and move society toward the scientific standards of the 19th century, labeling has become the latest cause for activists to rally behind. For example, we are told that 92 percent of Americans support mandatory labels. This would be true if self-selected internet polls among an activist community are representative of public opinion.

However, a survey by the International Food Information Council last year found that only 24 percent of consumers support additional information requirements on labels and only 3 percent support separate labels for biotech foods.

Pollsters, statisticians and economists use the ideas of revealed and stated preferences to understand consumer behavior. A revealed preference analyzes what people actually do and the choices they make in the marketplace when presented with options. By contrast, stated preferences are based on what people say they would do.

Whenever information can be found on revealed preferences, stronger inferences and better policy can be developed. Fortunately, we have a food marketplace created by hardworking farmers that is abundant in its choices.

Most people choose foods with some biotech ingredients and – important for those who must avoid a certain ingredient or type of ingredient – there are significant market segments captured by the natural and organic suppliers. Just as there is a market for the thousands of items found on our store shelves, there is a market for information about those products.

Alarmist activists and labeling proponents would have us believe that modifying a plant through biotechnology processes creates some sort of novel Frankenfood. As a member of the Grange, an ag-based rural advocacy group established in 1867, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Farmers and gardeners have been shaping the genetic destiny of the foods we eat for thousands of years.

All crops must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and to gain FDA approval, crops grown from biotech seeds must meet all the same requirements of traditionally bred plants. In addition, the food must be tested and found to be “as nutritious as foods from comparable traditionally bred plants.”

Moreover, independent scientific and regulatory bodies such as the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization find that these crops are just as safe as conventionally grown foods. The AMA has noted, “no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”

More recently, economic studies show that mandatory labeling would increase food costs for consumers. Failed provisions in California and Washington state would have increased annual grocery bills by $400.

We should expect that prominent labels identifying GMO ingredients might affect the buying decisions for some consumers. In fact, it would be surprising if consumer behavior did not change. Where will these consumers go? Most likely they will choose substitutes.

Gone from the grocery store are the perfectly safe and extensively studied products that feed families like mine and have been on the market for decades. In their place will be politically correct, more expensive alternatives.

It would be shameful if we let scare tactics and half-truths drive up costs and reduce choices for consumers while lining the pockets of self-styled activists.

(Grace Boatright is legislative director of the National Grange, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, fraternal organization that advocates for rural America and agriculture.)

Legacy Comments9

We all deserve to know what is contained in our food. The majority of people in New Hampshire want proper labeling of foods that contain potentially harmful ingredients. It's very simple, very straight forward. Why wouldn't every person in the state want to know what is in their food? If it costs a few extra dollars for these companies to change their labels, then I say "Tough S@#%"! My health and the health of my family is more important than a few dollars from your bottom line.

Is Ms. Boatwright aware the the FDA does no independent research and relies on biotech seed producers to vouch for their products? Is she aware that the NH Grange voted in October to support national labeling of genetically engineered products? Is she aware that a NH specific poll by the Melman Group, a respected national polling organization, found 90 percent of NH voters--Independents, Democrats and Republicans--support labeling? Is she aware that the International Food Information Council is supported by the national broad-based food, beverage, and agricultural industries [the people who just poured $30 million into Washington State to fight labeling]? If no, she should do some research. If yes, then what is her agenda?

Why do I want the government adding another "requirement" for businesses to complie with unless it is proven to be bad for our health? I am fine with tabacco products containing disclaimers that they can kill you as it has been proven with unbiased science. Businesses which sell products which are GMO free are allowed to put that on the label and should do so. This is just like gluten; products are labeled gluten free but business which produce products containing gluten are not forced to include this on thier label. Same thing with organic products. Same with BST in milk. This list continues. If we require businesses to disclose the use of GMOs on thier labels, without science proving that they pose a health concern, where do we draw the line?

m2mconnected: Interesting how you copy/paste your own comments from other posts, is this your best you can do? FYI FDA just recently approved to mandatory labeling "Non-gluten" their version of gluten free, I guess you are not so up-to-date. There is no scientific evidence that GMOs are safe to eat, Bon Appetit with the xmore amount of pesticides that causes cancer. So you want us to ignore "What in our Food", but transparency and honesty would be the smart way to go, it would be win-win situation. If it's not labeled there must be something hidden in it, let's not reveal it....... why are the opponents so afraid to be honest, the consumers demand it, it's their right TOO.

I think labels are terrific. Too bad folks do not read them. And if they do read them, they come across an additive they cannot spell or have a clue what the heck it is. Organic food is very expensive. Most folks eat out of cans, go to fast food restaurants, and do not have the time to cook things from scratch with no preservatives. Most folks also give their kids choices, which is dumb. Because when you give a kid a choice they will avoid most times what is good for them in regards to fruit and veggies. If you do not buy it, they just have the choice of what you put in front of them. Kids will not go hungry. Being in the military and getting low pay, forced us to be creative with food. By that I mean buying a chicken, having a meal with that chicken, and making a big pot of soup with the bone and the rest. If you buy a 5 dollar chicken and get two meals out of it, your ahead of the game. But it takes time and planning. Go to the market with a list like I did in the military. Plan meals for a week say. Buy only those ingredients and you will find your buck goes a lot further. The only time my kids got sweets was when I baked them, and they had to eat the meal or no dessert. I packed their lunches so I knew what they were eating. Funny too, because they carried their lunches I made all through high school and their friends always wanted to swap lunches with them or buy their home made lunches.I can count on one hand how many times my kids had antibiotics. We made sure our kids were outdoors, played sports and ate well. TV was a rarity and when allowed it was monitored. With the obesity problem we have now, especially with kids, it is obvious that folks are eating poorly. Your diet should be very important because it feeds you to keep you healthy and allows your immune system to work naturally. Eat well, get fresh air and move. You will regret it when you age if you are not in charge of what you eat and how active you are.

I see where we are soon going to be getting chicken from China. That's nice, I definitely would like to know that any chicken I buy or order out is from China. Thousands of people die every year in China from food poisoning and that is only the ones we hear about. All food that we eat or feed to our families should be labeled.

Scare tactics are saying that every new thing is going to raise the price of food. Gary Hirschberg is not an outsider, he produces his dairy products here in NH and knows something about honest labeling. We pay for it, we eat it, we should know. It seems strange that just labeling GMO's mean people will not buy it, if it is safe why would they not buy it? So you actually seem to admit that you don't want people to know what is in their food or they won't buy it. This seems like the basic right to know for consumers.

Nice letter. The lack of evidence that GMOs cause harm, any more so than non-GMOs, would render the labeling of such products nothing more than an incorrect statement that they are inferior. Would it be OK for NH farmers to attach a label to their milk stating :"This milk was NOT produced by Vermont cows!"? That would be the truth, wouldn't it? And don't people deserve to know where their milk comes from? What would be the harm?

Yes, that would be fair. And so would labeling GMOs.

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