At a recent livestock show here in Colorado, a teenage girl showed her pig and gave a short talk on biotechnology in agriculture. She criticized genetically modified crops and the food they produce, repeating the usual assortment of false claims, and advising us that she would never use GMO’s in her projects. Then she took questions from the judges, including me.
“What do you feed your pigs?” we asked.
She paused. If she had been a cartoon character, we might have seen a light bulb brighten above her head.
“Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed. “You just taught me something!”
She had made the connection: We feed GM food to the livestock we consume, and it’s an ordinary part of safe and modern food production.
Her misunderstanding was innocent and she learned a lesson. One of the purposes of junior categories at stock shows is education. Yet the incident reminded me of a sad fact that soon could lead to bad public policy in our state and beyond: When it comes to food, a lot of people don’t know what they’re talking about.
Next month, voters in Colorado will consider Proposition 105, a ballot initiative to require warning labels on food that contains GM ingredients. (In Oregon, voters will weigh a similar measure.)
On first impression, Proposition 105 may sound like a good idea. What’s wrong with letting consumers have a little extra information about their food? Farmers have nothing to hide.
On second glance, however, the flaws of Proposition 105 become apparent: This is a bad idea that won’t work.
At the heart of the matter is the simple scientific fact that GM food is safe and healthy. A wide range of groups have endorsed GM food, including the American Medical Association, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization.
Moreover, we have long, real-world experience with GM food. Farmers have produced it for nearly a generation, in the United States and elsewhere. In the next few weeks, according to the projections of Truth about Trade and Technology, a non-profit group, a farmer somewhere in the world will harvest the 4-billionth acre of GM crops.
On our farm east of Denver, we grow a few hundred acres of GM crops, which we give to our cattle. We sell the beef, which also winds up on my family’s dinner table. If there were any possibility of risk, I wouldn’t feed it to my husband or son.
Every shred of scientific data proves that GM food is safe and healthy. The latest bit of evidence just appeared in the Journal of Animal Science, in research conducted by Alison Van Eenennaam of the University of California at Davis. She studied 29 years of livestock health data, involving more than 100 billion animals, and concluded that the nutritional profile of animals that had been fed GM food was no different from those that hadn’t.
In other words, meat produced with GM ingredients is exactly the same as meat produced with non-GM ingredients.
Van Eenennaam’s research didn’t generate headlines, in part because the media prefers stories that startle or frighten the public—but mainly because it wasn’t newsworthy. It corroborated what we already knew, from years and years of previous research.
So why would we want warning labels? They won’t help consumers make smart decisions about what to eat. In fact, they’re likely to give the wrong impression that GM food is dangerous.
Worst of all, however, is that they’ll hit us in our pocketbooks. Last month, Colorado’s Legislative Research Council—a government organization, not a special-interest group—said that if voters approve Proposition 105, grocery-store prices will go up, costing Colorado consumers several hundred dollars more per year!
This is what Proposition 105 promises: meaningless labels that will cost everybody more money.
These labels will conflict with current US labeling standards, requiring Colorado farmers, producers and retailers to separate and re-label their products: All costs which will be passed down to you Mr. / Mrs. / Ms. Consumer.
It will require several hundred new governmental employees, all paid for by Colorado taxpayers, to oversee this system.
The proposed legislation is also very misleading. Many foods that contain GMO’s will not require labeling – including almost all food you would eat in a restaurant.
The good news is that people who want to avoid GM food don’t even need Proposition 105: They can buy organic. The federal government regulates the labeling of organic food, which may not contain GM ingredients.
The girl I met at the livestock show isn’t old enough to vote. If she could turn out on November 4, however, I bet she’d say “no” to Proposition 105. Let’s hope that the rest of Colorado’s voters learn her lesson, before it’s too late.
Debbie Wacker, her husband and son grow sugar beets, corn, wheat, alfalfa, millet and feed 250 beef cows on the eastern plains of Colorado. Debbie is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).