Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Congressman Bob Gibbs column: Biotechnology is feeding millions, saving lives

On July 1, Vermont’s food labeling law will take effect, causing massive production and packaging issues across the agriculture and food industries.

By Bob Gibbs U.S. House, R-Lakeville - @ The Times Reporter

On July 1, Vermont’s food labeling law will take effect, causing massive production and packaging issues across the agriculture and food industries. Soon, all food sold in Vermont using biotechnology, or genetic engineering, will require a label indicating a presence in the product. Here’s the catch: dairy and milk products are exempt from the labeling requirements. Coincidentally, dairy is a major industry in Vermont.

Advocates claim it is an innocuous effort to better inform consumers of the food they are buying. In reality, the campaign behind this ill-advised state law is guided by the misleading argument that GMOs are unsafe for human consumption, that they pose greater hazards than so-called “natural” foods. But this could not be further from the truth. These biotechnologies strengthen our food supplies and feed millions of people, especially in the developing world, who are at risk of starvation.

In fact, farmers have been using cross-breeding and other techniques for thousands of years. They created entirely new foods and larger, more sustainable forms of foods that already existed. Bananas, watermelon, corn, and carrots are just a few crops manipulated by ancient farmers. Evidence suggests watermelons were selectively bred by Egyptians more than four thousand years ago. Native Americans bred corn to create larger and better tasting ears nearly ten thousand years ago. Farmers across the country use bioengineering to increase yields and be responsible stewards of the environment. On my own farm, I have been able to use biotechnology to help reduce the use of herbicides and enhance conservation practices.

Using science to make our food taste better, last longer, and be more resistant to drought or disease is not a new phenomenon. It is an important part of human history and vital to our growth. Unfortunately, anti-biotech advocates are not just misrepresenting history, they’re misrepresenting science.

Numerous studies have been conducted to analyze the safety of GMOs. Countless reports show that GMOs are perfectly safe for humans while the American Medical Association even states “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods.” The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine agree, as does the American Council on Science and Health, the World Health Organization, and the Royal Society of Medicine.

Even the Obama Administration’s Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has said there are no issues regarding safety of GMO food and that forcing a label on bioengineered food does not satisfy either of the common and conventional reasons for labeling requirements: (1) recognizing a potential safety problem or (2) identifying nutritional information.

If the Vermont law goes into effect on July 1st, the consequences will be felt nationwide. Labeling requirement for one state will place a significant burden on food producers, who either have to create two versions of every label (one for the state of Vermont and one for the rest of the country), or they must change their packaging and labels nationwide to conform with Vermont’s new law.

Alternatively, food producers could also be forced to dramatically change their recipes, ingredients, or supply chain to comply with one state’s law.

This does not happen in a vacuum. The cost of new labeling, new ingredients, or new production processes ultimately gets passed on to consumers. This will drive up food prices for everyone and especially hurt American families, who have children to feed. Vermont could just be the beginning. Other states have contemplated labeling requirements for bioengineered food, potentially creating a patchwork of state and local label laws which the food and agriculture industries cannot afford without raising their prices.

We can avoid this unnecessary increase in food prices. Last year the House of Representatives passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. This is a bipartisan bill that protects American consumers from a state-by-state labeling structure. It gives the Food and Drug Administration the ability to oversee a new process regarding claims on food labels about bioengineered food or ingredients. The legislation, supported by groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation, Council for Responsible Nutrition, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and many others, also directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a certification process for producers to label their products as GMO-free if they so choose.

The world needs a safe, affordable, and plentiful food supply. Biotechnology plays an important part in sustaining our population. We should not let rhetoric and unfounded fears of innovation stand in the way of ensuring everyone, especially those who already have difficulty affording nutritious food for their children, has access to the nourishment necessary for a happy and healthy life.
Congressman Bob Gibbs may be reached by mailing 329 Cannon HOB, Washington,D.C. 20515, phone 202-225-6265; fax 202-225-3394; to email, visit his website at https://gibbs.house.gov/contact-me/email-me.

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