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Opinion: GMO labeling a disaster

Why is Washington working on a national, voluntary, GMO-labeling law? Aren’t corporations and individuals already free to label their products to let their customers know whether they contain GMOs?

Supporters of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 say we need to replace state-level GMO labeling initiatives with a single national law.

But, unless it’s drastically altered, the bill being considered will be used by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as a back door, bypassing Congress, to institute European-style threshold limits on GMO content in organic food, which will result in legal mayhem across the American heartland.

Threshold GMO level

Without doubt, the single most threatening part of Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo’s HR 1599 is the institution of a maximum permissible or threshold level for GMO content in organic food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, written, edited and finalized by organic industry stakeholders during the Clinton Administration, organic crops can currently only be contaminated by synthetic pesticides or fertilizers — substances that are known to cause harm above certain crucial levels.

As such, the NOP clearly stipulates the threshold tolerance levels for such substances in organic foods, and when these levels are exceeded for any reason, organic foods no longer can qualify for organic certification. So if an organic farmer can prove that a neighboring farmer or a custom applicator was responsible for this contamination, he or she can sue for loss of income. And many have.

But, since GMOs have never be shown to cause harm at any level, organic stakeholders failed to persuade Clinton’s appointees in Washington to institute a threshold tolerance level for GMO content in organic foods. And it’s a good thing, too, otherwise organic activists surely would have taken every opportunity to sue their GMO neighbors for “contaminating” their organic crops, just like they do whenever there’s a case of pesticide contamination.

Under pressure from ag-media, this “maximum permissible level” was removed from the new version of Pompeo’s bill, just before it was brought to a vote. It was replaced with verbiage giving the ag secretary full discretion as to how exactly to implement Washington’s GMO labeling law, stipulating that he shall consult with “other parties” in so doing.

This is far worse than the original, because, though there no longer is any mention of a threshold limit, it’s clear that after consulting with representatives of the anti-GMO organic industry, along with trading partners in anti-GMO Europe, the secretary will impose a “maximum permissible level” as outlined in the original version of this bill.

‘Political number’

As to what the maximum permissible level will be, it’s pretty clear the European threshold of 0.9 percent will be adopted, a completely arbitrary number with no basis in science. It’s a political number, and a powerful one at that, effectively guaranteeing that GMOs are not grown anywhere in Europe.

To repeat, an American organic farmer’s crop cannot currently be decertified for any level of GMO “contamination.” This is because there is no body of evidence — in law or science — that would back up such an argument.

Basically, organic activists couldn’t argue persuasively that GMOs were a problem the same way pesticides and fertilizers are when they negotiated the NOP. So GMOs do not have any threshold limit like pesticides do, as well they shouldn’t.

Pompeo’s bill will change that by providing a legal basis on which to claim that an organic crop can no longer be labeled as GMO-free, and hence cannot be certified or labeled organic. In short, Pompeo’s bill codifies the commonly-held belief perpetuated by tax-subsidized anti-GMO organic activists that GMOs might be dangerous and as such pose a threat to pristine, pure, “natural” organic crops.

Organic farmers will not wait to sue their GMO neighbors once such a threshold limit is established in the highest office in the land. They’ll strike immediately with a bevy of pro-organic lawyers lined up to take their cases. And this will serve to severely discourage the use of GMO crops in America.

This explains why opposition to Pompeo’s bill from anti-GMO organic activists has been muted.

Yes, they’ve gone through the motions of pretending to oppose it here and there; but it’s nothing like what we normally see from this anti-science crowd that has tried and failed no fewer than three times to sue the makers of GMO crops (Monsanto and Syngenta) for allegedly posing a threat to organic farms.

They’ve always wanted GMOs to be in the same class as pesticides, and now they’re poised to get precisely that. In a broad-sweeping attempt to prevent a “patchwork” of state-level GMO labeling laws across the land, Pompeo’s bill inadvertently provides the legal basis for a threshold limit on GMOs, and hence provides the basis for lawsuits launched by activist organic farmers against their GMO neighbors.

Just imagine hundreds, thousands of activist-backed, anti-GMO organic farmers launching lawsuits against their GMO neighbors for causing the decertification of their organic crops. The effect would be immediate and lasting, and GMO wheat, flax and Golden Rice, along with countless other up-and-coming GMO innovations, will all stay stuck on the back burner under such libel chill.

To recap, there is currently no such thing as contamination of an organic crop by GMOs. Organic crops can only be contaminated by pesticides or fertilizer. But the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act will change that, thereby making it possible for the first time for organic farmers in America to sue their GMO neighbors for GMO contamination.

A final note. It is currently impossible for organic farmers to sue their neighbors for GMO contamination in Canada, Australia, America and India. Given that GMO farming was launched in America (after being invented in Belgium), it would be nothing short of ironic if America was the first of these four nations to pass legislation altering this in any way.

Editor’s note: Popoff is a former USDA contract organic inspector and author of the book, Is it Organic?

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