Colo. ag groups pushing federal food-labeling bill, opposing GMO-focused state initiative |

Colo. ag groups pushing federal food-labeling bill, opposing GMO-focused state initiative

Eric Brown | Fence Post Editorial Director

Colorado food growers are supporting efforts they say would help the increasing number of curious consumers better understand how their food was produced — “organically,” “naturally,” “conventionally,” or whatever today’s diverse food buyers prefer.

They stress, though, that Colorado Initiative 48 — currently being pushed to be on the ballot this November for Colorado voters — is not it.

Farmers and ranchers say a vote for Initiative 48 — a law that would require “GMO” labels for all foods sold in Colorado containing genetically modified organisms — would only contribute to the ongoing state-by-state patchwork of food-labeling and food-safety rules, which, they stress, is confusing for consumers and disruptive for producers marketing food to multiple states.

Furthermore, implementing mandatory labels could create added production costs, they say, which would then be passed on to consumers, some of whom already struggle with their grocery bills.

While in opposition to Initiative 48, a number of ag organizations are putting their support behind the nationwide Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, HR-4432, and hope the legislation will continue to have support from both sides of the aisle as it works its way through Washington, D.C.

If approved, the law would create a nationwide, voluntary labeling system, and also a set of labeling standards — not only for foods containing GMOs, but also for other food categories.

Currently, there are very loose standards for some food labels — particularly “natural,” according to local producers — leaving some of these terms to be used more so as marketing tools, rather than ways of helping consumers make informed food choices.

And while there are much more stringent standards for foods labeled “organic,” some rules vary state-to-state, making it a “headache” for farmers who market their goods to different states, according to LaSalle-area farmer Harry Strohauer, who grows both conventional crops and organic crops.

“Having consistent federal standards would be a tremendous help for us,” said Strohauer, who sits on the National Potato Council — a group that officially put its support behind the nationwide Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act last week.

In addition to providing more widespread consistency, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would further ensure the safety of GMOs, producers and ag officials say, by requiring the Food and Drug Administration to conduct reviews of all new GMO traits before they’re introduced into commerce.

If found to have any kind of health risks, then the food would require a label.

The Safety Debate

GMOs — crops genetically engineered to use less water, reduce the use of chemicals and increase production — have become more and more heavily used, with fewer farmers today covering more ground, and the number of mouths to feed increasing.

Spearheading Colorado’s Initiative 48 is “Right to Know” — a group that, like others, is concerned about the safety and impacts of GMOs.

“We still just don’t know that much about them,” said Larry Cooper, who started Right To Know with his wife two years ago, and is spearheading the ongoing effort to get foods with GMOs labeled in Colorado.

He said Monday, Right To Know has about 75,000 signatures for Initiative 48 — nearing the 86,105 signatures needed by the Aug. 4 deadline to get the measure on the ballot in November to let Colorado voters decide.

He said he’d “be more than happy” to sit down with ag organizations in the state to discuss GMOs, but doesn’t agree with them in that a federal, voluntary food-labeling system would educate consumers about their food.

“That’s basically what we have now,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t help the consumer. The consumer has the right to know if their food has been genetically modified. There just hasn’t been enough research done on GMOs to know how safe they are.”

But farmers and ag organizations stress that research has been done on GMOs, and there has not been a documented case of a food allergy or human health issue due to such crop technology.

Most studies show genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption. The Food and Drug Administration generally recognizes these foods as safe, and the World Health Organization has said no ill health effects have resulted on the international market.

In response to what was believed to be an information gap, a team of Italian scientists summarized 1,783 studies from 2002 to 2012 about the safety and environmental impacts of GMO foods. Those scientists, too, concluded, that “the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.”

Still, many others, like Cooper, question the unknown long-term health impacts GMOs might have, and believe more research is needed. That’s why many in agriculture say they want the Food and Drug Administration — under the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, if it were to pass — to take over testing all GMOs before they make it to consumers.

“We in no way want to hide anything from the consumer … and we have nothing to hide,” said Mark Sponsler, executive director and CEO for the Colorado Corn Growers Association, which, like many other ag groups, has formally put its support behind the nationwide Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. “Mandating a label in Colorado that would only inflame unnecessary paranoia isn’t good for consumers or our farmers. Creating a nationwide, more transparent and more widespread set of standards that puts everyone on a level playing field is no doubt the way to go.”

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