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The worst label in the GMO debate

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 March 2016

Having listened to the opposing sides waging a fierce debate over genetically modified organism (GMO) food labels in the U.S., it’s painfully obvious who’s winning the battle. And it isn’t the family farm or ranch.

If you’re looking for an anti-GMO rant, you won’t get it from me. GMO crops and seeds have saved billions – yes, billions – of lives, especially in developing nations. Genetically engineered seeds and crops developed by Norman Borlaug and scientists of the Green Revolution have fed nations and prevented famine in far corners of the world.

But if people want to identify GMOs, they have a legitimate point. Free enterprise is about consumer choice, and that choice requires transparency of information. Those who buy food while depending upon others to produce it have a right to know what they’re eating.

The question is to what extent? To what lengths are we requiring the identification of GMO uses in food? For livestock, if the animal has consumed feed raised from GMO seeds for half its lifetime, that animal’s milk, eggs or beef would be deemed a GMO protein. What if the consumption period was a short duration? How far does the designation need to go?

Then there’s the uncertainties of the costs to labeling. A growing number of states are pushing their own laws for mandatory labels of GMO foods on a national basis. Food producers say that patchwork of state laws would be unrealistic and costly.

So they’re lobbying members of Congress to pass a national voluntary labeling law. States’ advocates criticize that campaign as usurping a state’s right to require labeling as they see fit.

The entire debate could be arduous but very necessary. In the end, it will require deft flexibility from both sides. But that doesn’t mean farmers and producers should expect any extra civilities.

Watching speeches online from members of the U.S. Senate, it’s stunning to hear the number of leaders who try to savage the name of ag producers for the semantics of their cause.

It has become infuriating to see members of Congress throw the label “Big Ag” upon anyone in the agricultural community opposed to their argument. Yet they continue to do so without any impunity.

Think about this the next time you hear someone use the “factory farm” label: As of 2012, 81 percent of the 915,000 cattle operations in the U.S. had fewer than 100 head of cattle; and 96 percent of those operations had fewer than 500 head.

That’s not factory farming, and the argument that ag has morphed into an industrial giant is a complicit lie.

The myth of “Big Ag” warrants a bold response from farmers and ranchers. Let’s hope political leaders recognize the real face of agriculture isn’t driving a boardroom, it’s driving a pickup truck.  end mark

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