Food Labels Demand Uniformity and Fairness


I’ve been a fan of the Minnesota Vikings ever since my father took me to games that featured Fran Tarkenton at quarterback in the 1970s—and I continue to cheer them on today with Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, and the rest of the team, with its 8-4 record in the NFC North.

But imagine if the rules of football changed every week, depending on the whims of each of the 32 home teams. In other words, what would games be like if the Seattle Seahawks insisted that touchdowns were worth only five points and the Arizona Cardinals permitted each team to have 15 men on the field?

It would be a silly and unworkable system. Sports demand uniformity and fairness.

So do the farming and food industries.

That’s why we need federal legislation to establish the rules of the game. We need clear and consistent labeling standards for food with genetically modified ingredients. We can’t expect the states to do this for us—and if we did, we’d see a crazy-quilt pattern of contradictory regulations that would push up prices in grocery stores and confuse everyone

Vermont already has taken a step in the wrong direction, with a law that would require warning labels for food containing ingredients that were grown with GMO technology. It goes into effect next year. Several other states are looking at their own measures.

This is a looming economic disaster for both producers and consumers. And it makes no sense: GMOs are a safe and proven technology that we’ve been growing and eating for decades. They’ve won the backing of scientists, doctors, and regulators. Their only significant opponents are ideological activists who despise free markets and special-interest groups that want to manipulate the government into granting them competitive advantages.

Congress urgently needs to take a stand for a clear national solution.

I’m a state legislator in North Dakota, and also one of the people in our chamber most likely to invoke the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers to the states. In other words, I’m a guy who fights for the rights of my state against the encroachments of the federal government.

Yet I’m also a supporter of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which allows the federal government to regulate trade “among the several states,” especially when it is a commerce situation where there is strong interdependence amongst the states. This is what prevents Florida from imposing tariffs on Ohio and Oregon, as if they were foreign countries.

Just as the NFL Competition Committee makes the rules for professional football, Congress should set the standards for national commerce.

So it makes sense for federal lawmakers to block Vermont and other states from passing unnecessary regulations that would force the entire national food chain to establish separate and costly methods of production for food with GMO ingredients and food without GMO ingredients.

The bipartisan members of the Senate Committee recognize that we need a solution. Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas as well as one of my own senators, John Hoeven, have a clear understanding of the problem—and the pitfalls of letting labels demonize safe and established technologies.

This fall, I learned a personal lesson in the value of GMOs for our farm. We planted thousands of acres of GMO corn on our family farm in the spring, as we’ve done for a long time. As an experiment, we also planted non-GMO corn on about 250 acres.

When we harvested last month, we discovered a big difference. The non-GMO fields produced roughly 35 percent less corn than the GMO fields. We lost about $30,000 on these acres, even in this season of low commodity prices.

If we let state-by-state labeling laws create a complicated patchwork of regulations that discourage farmers from planting GMOs, farmers like me will see their yields drop. We’ll grow less food on more land, hurting our environmental and conservation efforts. And as food supplies shrink, families will see their grocery-store bill spike.

I agree with Gary Hirschberg, head of the “Just Label It” campaign, who made this comment in an October Senate hearing on the topic of GMO labeling, “I certainly don’t support—nor have we supported–the 50-state patchwork solution. That would be a nightmare for all of us.”

Yes, a nightmare—sort of like Super Bowl IX, when Fran Tarkenton threw three interceptions and was tackled for a safety.

Perhaps we could go back and rewrite the rulebooks, letting interceptions count for points. That would have helped my Vikings, but it would be unfair to the Pittsburgh Steelers and every other fan of football.

Let’s make things fair for farmers and consumers.

Terry Wanzek grows wheat, corn, soybean and pinto beans on a family farm in North Dakota.  He serves as a ND State Senator and volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology / Global Farmer Network (

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Terry Wanzek

Terry Wanzek

Terry Wanzek is a fourth generation North Dakota farmer. This family partnership raises spring wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, dry edible beans and sunflowers. Terry was elected to serve as a North Dakota State Senator, providing leadership to the agriculture committee and serving as Senate President Pro Tempore.
Terry volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network and continues to provide leadership to the National Association of Wheat Growers and the NoDak Mutual Insurance. He has a degree in Business Administration and Accounting from Jamestown College and completed the Texas A & M Executive Program for Agricultural Producers.

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