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LETTER: State-by-state GMO labeling creates expensive patchwork

The push for state labeling mandates for foods made with genetically modified organisms is a troubling trend that will negatively impact Minnesota families, farmers and businesses. Food labeling in the United States should remain uniform across all 50 states so that all consumers have access to the same information no matter where they shop.

Farmers in Minnesota have been relying on the benefits of genetically modified crops for decades. This technology allows farmers to increase productivity, enhance conservation, and use fewer pesticides.

Today, the vast majority of Minnesota’s staple crops are GMO, including 93 percent of corn, 94 percent of soybeans, and 95 percent of sugar beets. Together these crops are valued at more than $10 billion annually, and they are vital parts of our national food chain.

GMO crops have been meticulously tested by local, national, and international health and safety

organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.

Every major organization that has studied GMO crops has concluded they are as safe and healthy as any other food. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to support the safety of GMO food, activists are pushing for state laws that would require special labeling to be displayed on products containing GMO ingredients.

A state-by-state patchwork approach to food labeling runs counter to the national labeling standards that have served to provide consistency for consumers looking to labels for information regarding nutrition, safety, and allergens.

State labeling laws would introduce a variety of definitions, standards and exemptions into food labeling systems, confusing consumers and hurting farmers and manufacturers in the process. This threat is imminent, with a Vermont GMO labeling law scheduled to take effect in July. Farmers and food manufacturers will need to make important and expensive decisions early this year on how to comply with these laws.

Ultimately, consumers will pay the price. Reputable studies have found that state GMO labeling laws could increase grocery prices for a family by as much as $500 per year. Minnesota farmers and families shouldn’t be forced to pay for bad laws being enacted in Vermont and elsewhere, but without a federal solution that is what will happen.

There is bipartisan agreement in Congress that a patchwork of state labeling laws in unwise. Democrats and Republicans agree that such a system would be bad for everyone. The Obama administration agrees as well, with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying it would result in “chaos in the market.”

Additionally, nearly 500 state and national organizations have urged Congress to a create a voluntary, uniform, national food labeling standard, including the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, Minnesota Farm Bureau, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and Minnesota Agri-Women.

The Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, representing farmers, agribusinesses, and food companies, stands behind the science and proven safety of GMO products. We believe a national, voluntary labeling standard for GMO food balances the needs of consumers that want to purchase non-GMO food products, while allowing this important technology to continue to play a key role in providing safe and affordable food.

The U.S. House of Representative has already passed legislation that would provide for a voluntary, uniform national labeling standard, with a bipartisan majority of Minnesota’s representatives voting for the bill. However, the U.S. Senate has not taken up similar legislation. Given the importance of this issue to Minnesota’s agriculture and food sector, we strongly encourage Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to assume leadership roles and work with their Senate colleagues and find a solution to this issue.

Aasness is executive director, Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, a nonprofit organization representing Minnesota’s food and agriculture sectors, founded in 1968.

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