Opinion Columns & Blogs

Richard Felts: Need uniform labeling standards on GMOs

One of the biggest threats facing American farmers and consumers has nothing to do with weather patterns, drought or commodity prices. It’s coming from a handful of activists pushing a state-by-state approach to labeling genetically modified food.

Farmers and consumers need quick congressional action on federal legislation before this effort dramatically damages our nation’s food-supply system and increases food costs.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been part of the food supply for the past 20 years, and today make up 70 to 80 percent of the foods we eat. This is because GMOs have been a great tool for farmers. GMOs can help plants better survive droughts and require less water and fewer pesticides.

Unfortunately, activists and special-interest groups are seeking to stigmatize GMOs by creating a patchwork maze of state and local GMO labeling standards. They claim their efforts would help inform consumers, but the result of their efforts would only serve to mislead consumers and increase costs.

Creating unique labeling standards in different states has the effect of taking the United States’ unified food system and breaking it into pieces. A food might require a GMO label in one state, but not in another. Even within states there is bound to be confusion. Under Vermont’s GMO-labeling law, a vegetable soup with GMO ingredients would require a “GE” label while that same vegetable soup with beef would be exempt. How does this educate consumers?

To comply with this patchwork of laws, farmers will need to segregate their crops between GM and non-GM. Suppliers will need to create new supply chains and separate warehouses for individual states. Manufacturers will need to design unique labels and institute separate production runs for each state. Trucking and transportation companies will need to add new delivery routes and ensure that specific products get delivered to specific states.

For consumers, these costs add up. Families would see their grocery prices increase by an average of $500 per year under state GMO labeling mandates, according to a study by Cornell University. Even shoppers who choose to buy GMO foods would be affected. A study by the Washington State Academy of Sciences found that mandated labeling would increase costs for both GMO and non-GMO foods.

Without action from the federal government, the bad decisions being made in other states will soon hurt farmers and consumers in Kansas – and across the nation. Fortunately, Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., have put forward bipartisan legislation that would protect our farmers while ensuring that consumers have access to accurate and reliable information about the food they eat.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would ensure the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is recognized as the proper authority for consistent, science-based standards for food labeling. It would require the FDA approve all new GMO ingredients before they are brought to market and establish federal standards for companies that want to label their products for the absence or presence of GMO ingredients.

For decades, the federal government has established uniform standards for labeling meat, poultry, dairy and organic food. This ensures that farmers and sellers have a consistent framework to work within, and that consumers can understand what they are buying. This should be true for GMOs, too.

Richard Felts, a Montgomery County farmer, is the president of the Kansas Farm Bureau.