My Turn: GMO labeling: bad for business, bad for consumers

Last modified: 1/13/2014 9:52:14 AM
When you go to the grocery store, you look for foods your family needs and likes, and, if you’re like most Americans these days, you’re also looking at prices. But it’s also likely that you’re looking at labels just to make sure there’s nothing unhealthy in your foods. All of these factors inform your decision as to what to buy. After all, it’s about choice. We are lucky in this country to have so many choices.

But there are some people in New Hampshire who believe we need labels on foods that contain genetically modified, or engineered, foods (GMOs), creating a misconception that such foods are bad for you. Sadly, these people are using scare tactics over scientific facts. They are pushing a bill in the Legislature, House Bill 660, that would require anything with genetically modified organisms to be labeled as such. This is bad for business and bad for consumers, and it will create confusion where none needs to be.

It’s time to sort out fact from fiction, because if the bill passes, it will have a drastic economic impact on New Hampshire residents, grocers, restaurants, retailers and farmers.

The reality is, GMOs are in 70-85 percent of what we consume. Genetically modified seeds have been the norm for decades, without doing any harm whatsoever. In fact they’ve done great good. They are good for the environment because they reduce the need for pesticide, herbicide and water use, so the carbon footprint is less. They are good for farmers because they exponentially increase crop yields. They are good for consumers because they keep prices down at the grocery store. They are good for restaurants and retailers who can provide safe products at lower prices. All of these reasons also mean jobs, and more jobs.

Proponents of the bill say it’s a matter of transparency and the consumers’ right to know what’s in their food. But we already have that. Consumers who want food without GMOs can buy them by looking for products that have the “Certified Organic” or “Non GMO” labels.

No safety argument

The argument over safety has no legs to stand on. The Food and Drug Administration maintains the position that “there is no significant difference between foods produced using bio-engineering, as a class, and their conventional counterparts.” The American Medical Association says, “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.” The National Academies of Science, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization have produced more than 600 studies supporting the safety of these foods.

Ninety-three precent of New Hampshire’s food is imported. Forcing companies to produce special labels just for New Hampshire isn’t practical. They will either stop selling to us or substantially increase their prices. Our choices at the grocery store would be reduced. It would also mislead consumers to believe they should be concerned about a product’s safety when that’s simply not true. And it would cost all of us hundreds of dollars more per year for food. It would hurt our retailers, our grocers, our restaurateurs, and our farmers who would be denied access to new crop technologies that allow them to compete effectively in the marketplace. It would also severely reduce the 8 million pounds of food provided to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and food pantries in New Hampshire.

Lastly, at a time when the state budget is already stretched to the limit, HB 660 would mean having to create a state-run program that would cost half a million dollars. Guess who would foot the bill – you, me, and our neighbors.

In the past year, voters in both California and Washington carefully considered the costs and scientific information and rejected ballot initiatives to require labeling. When it reconvenes in January, the New Hampshire House of Representatives should do the same, for the sake of residents, businesses, retailers, and farmers across our state.

(John Dumais is president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association.)

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