With California Prop Defeated, GMO Labeling Proponents Look to Farm Bill by Amy Westervelt, for www.forbes.com
California’s Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of all food products containing genetically modified organisms within two years, was narrowly defeated last week (53 to 47). The result has largely been credited to the $45 million spent by a coalition including Monsanto , Du Pont, and many others on No on 37 ads depicting farmers, Democrats, and scientists claiming GMO labeling would be detrimental to business, confusing and costly to consumers, and counterproductive to research. Despite the defeat of the bill, GMO labeling advocates are calling the California campaign a victory given that it was outspent 5 to 1 and still managed to get over 4 million votes.
Now the groups behind Prop 37—a coalition of nonprofits, farmers, and organic and natural foods companies—are keeping an eye on the Farm Bill. “Federal GE foods labeling must now be the focus,” said David Bancroft, campaign director of Just Label It , a coalition of 600 businesses and organizations that spearheaded the FDA petition drive for GE foods labeling, in a release about Prop 37’s defeat. The group is not just concerned with passing a Federal labeling mandate, but with language related to the USDA’s authority that was inserted into the House versions of the Farm Bill, which, if passed, would strip federal agencies of their authority to regulate GE crops.
“We believe that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” says Britt Lundgren, Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture for Stonyfield , a member of Just Label It and longtime supporter of GMO labeling. “It’s why we offer an organic product and why we got behind this in such a big way.”
As for the concerns voiced by the No on 37 campaign, that farmers would be harmed by GMO labeling, Lundgren says most farmers would not be affected at all. “Farmers adapt to market demands,” she says. “We have a lot of really capable, smart farmers in this country. Everything they have to do to manage their crops and business is pretty unique. To say this is going to really hurt them doesn’t acknowledge their abilities at all.”
While GMO labeling would seem like a clearcut boon to the organic food business, Lundgren points out that’s not necessarily the case. “It cuts both ways for us as an organic business — on the one hand, we can remind folks that the organic standard doesn’t allow GMOs but on the other hand mandatory GMO labeling would provide an alternative to organic,” she says. “If you’re only concerned about GMOs and not pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones, then you could look for that GMO label and not organic. So GMO labeling is not a clear benefit or negative for the organic sector as a whole.”
In addition to wanting consumers to know what’s in their food, Lundgren says Stonyfield’s interest in GMOs also includes concern over GMO contamination of organic crops, an issue she says has received little attention. If a Stonyfield organic dairy farmer, for example, had the organic alfalfa he feeds his cattle contaminated by GMOs, that could also contaminate the farmer’s milk, which could be problematic. Even though the USDA doesn’t require testing to determine GMO contamination, many grain buyers do. “There are definitely stories out there about organic grain growers not being able to sell their crop as organic because the buyer tested for contamination and rejected the load,” Lundgren says.
Many organic brands are also certifying their products as Non-GMO through the Non-GMO project, which does conduct routine testing for contamination, to provide consumers with additional certainty.
“GMO contamination is something the farmers we work with are very concerned about,” Lundgren says. “It makes them vulnerable to financial losses and there’s currently no way for them to recoup those losses.”
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