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Thursday, March 3, 2016

GMO Labeling - Follow The Money

February 26, 2016, 10:00 am

By John Bode

Every authority agrees, GMO labeling is not about food safety. It is about food industry market share. Certain parts of the organic food industry are funding the campaign for mandatory on package GMO labels so the products they compete against will bear a label that scares consumers. If their competitors sell less, they will sell more. Every authority agrees it will raise food prices.

While putting a GMO label on a product is truthful, it works brilliantly to create a competitive market advantage because it is also misleading. Consumers perceive a government mandated label statement as a warning. When testifying under oath before Congress, the chief lobbyist for “Just Label It” acknowledged that foods produced with biotechnology are safe. Yet, the backers of mandatory labeling continue to push a contrary notion. One of the leading groups they use to push GMO labeling is called the “Center for Food Safety.”

The fight has been going on for years. After citizen referendums in California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon rejected their scheme, a legislature representing the 625,000 people of Vermont passed a law that would affect not only Vermonters, but American shoppers in every corner of the United States. Unless Congress acts, Vermont’s law will go into effect July 1, 2016.

The Vermont law was carefully structured to reshape the national food supply, but have minimal impact on Vermont. First, Vermont exempted the cheese and maple syrup that it famously produces. In fact, two-thirds of all food sold in Vermont would be exempt from this law that is supposed to give consumers more information. Second, Vermont imposed its GMO labeling requirement on the manufacturers of food sold in Vermont, rather than the retailers who sell food in the state. The difference is huge. U.S. food manufacturers cannot control where their food is ultimately sold. Even those who have direct supply agreements with big box stores often find their products are resold in convenience stores. So, food manufacturers generally must change their ingredients or label all non-exempt food they sell in the U.S.

If Vermont had not been trying to force change throughout the national food supply, its GMO labeling requirement could have been applied to Vermont food retailers as other effective food labeling requirements do. At least for the products Vermont did not exempt, that would have been just as effective, but generally would have limited its impact to Vermont. Vermont won’t do that because the law’s adverse effects on Vermont consumers would be clear and it would not force the nation wide changes needed to pay off the bet made by financiers of the GMO labeling lobby. As Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety has declared, “We are going to force them to label this food. If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it.”

Tiny Vermont’s GMO labeling law is projected to hike the average American household’s food costs by almost $1100 over the next year. Low-income households will be hit hardest. Unless Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) can quickly pass his bill to apply one GMO labeling standard across America, your food prices will be going up.


Bode is president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association.

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