Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Labeling law could be the beginning of a long battle over GMO use, researchers say

The Senate and House this month passed bills requiring genetically modified foods to be labeled. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. "We suspect that this is the first skirmish in what could be a very long and protracted battle over GMOs and their presence in the food supply," opine Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, in their latest "Policy Pennings" edition. "We say that because the issues at stake for both sides involve much more than the labeling issue that is the subject of the current legislative actions."

One problem is that when "talking about GMOs, different people mean different things—for instance, there is not just one GMO technology—and different actors in this discussion have different agendas," Schaffer and Ray write. "Opponents of labeling argue that the other side has to prove that the presence of GMOs in the food supply is dangerous. Proponents of labeling, on the other hand, assert that the suppliers of GMOs have to show that they are safe. The sticking point is that the two sides cannot agree on what level of risk is safe enough."

"Farmers in general have shed their early skepticism about GMOs and increased their use, despite the higher cost, because it simplifies the production process," Schaffer and Ray write. "The use of GMOs to control for weeds and/or pests has reduced the number of field passes they must make. We dare to say that no one misses the hot sweaty days walking beans with a sprayer or a hoe. Some farmers have used the time saved in reducing the number of field passes to increase their acreage."

"Some participants in the debate see GMO labeling as an opportunity to resist corporate control of the agriculture and food system and the foods we eat," Schaffer and Ray write. "They see the use of GMOs as a tool that agribusiness uses to dictate what is grown and extract monopoly profits from producers and consumers alike. They believe that with mandatory labeling, consumers will reject products with GMO labels—the other side fears this might be true—and GMO grains and meats produced from animals fed GMOs will disappear from the marketplace the way the use of rBGH in milk production did when dairy processors began to label their milk product as rBGH-free."

"The flip side of concern over corporate control is concern to protect corporate profits," Schaffer and Ray write. "If the production of GMO corn and soybeans were to drop by half, the profits of a number of companies could disappear. Companies that have almost completely aligned themselves with the production of GMO seeds and production of the associated chemicals would be in gravest danger if consumers were to embrace foods produced without GMOs to any significant degree."

"In the long run, producers need to produce what consumers want to buy," Schaffer and Ray write. "Consumers do not need to buy what producers want to grow, process or manufacture. If a set of producers does not want to meet consumer needs (in this instance information), the likely result is that consumers will find a set of producers who will." (Read more)

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