Vermont food law ‘would wreck Red River Valley,’ ag advocate warns
ST. PAUL -- A Vermont law could kill western Minnesota's sugar beet industry, a farmer warns. "It probably would wreck the Red River Valley," President Karolyn Zurn of Minnesota Agriwomen told reporters on a Friday conference call. The unusual co...
ST. PAUL -- A Vermont law could kill western Minnesota's sugar beet industry, a farmer warns.
"It probably would wreck the Red River Valley," President Karolyn Zurn of Minnesota Agriwomen told reporters on a Friday conference call.
The unusual connection between a Vermont lawmaker and Minnesota farmers comes over one of the most controversial things in agriculture today: genetically modified crops. Specifically, the law requires most foods with ingredients from modified crops to show that on the label.
President Perry Aasnes of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, a coalition of farmers and agri-businesses, said that since most food businesses sell in many states, they will decide to follow the Vermont law with all of their sales in all states. That will make the new Vermont law "the de facto labeling law of the land."
The argument about genetically modified organisms is over whether they are safe. Supporters like Aasnes and Zurn say studies show they are safe, but opponents say that changing a plant's DNA has widespread, and often unknown, consequences.
Most sugar beets and many other crops use genetically modified crop seeds. Such seeds produce plants that can better resist herbicides and pests, saving farmers money they used to spend on labor and chemicals they now do not need.
Forcing food producers to label products as containing GMOs "stigmatizes" the food, Aasnes said, which would hurt sales.
The Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, which set up the conference call, asks Congress to pass a national law allowing voluntary labeling, superseding the Vermont law. The coalition says action is needed by when the law begins on July 1.
Buck Humphrey of the coalition said that food labeling always has been decided on a national level.
Zurn, who farms near Calloway with her husband and sons, said companies will be forced to only use non-GMO sugar when labels cut sales of GMO products.
If sugar beet and other farmers are forced to dump GMOs, she said, they would return to how things worked years ago. That means more chemical use to fight weeds and insects and hiring more farmhands.
Reverting to the old ways would raise sugar beet prices so high that food makers would turn to the already-cheaper sugar cane, Zurn said.
Aasnes said that many food manufacturers have announced they are turning away from GMO crops. If the movement continues, he said, it would cost each American hundreds of dollars a year in higher food prices.
Most of the focus is on the U.S. Senate, where an attempt to make a national policy failed earlier this year. Key farm-state senators continue working toward a compromise.
Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., argued against the earlier Senate plan.
"Transparency is everything," Tester said. "Transparency leads to accountability and gives power to Americans. It's true when we talk about food, too. Free markets work when consumers have access to information. But this bill does none of those things, it just keeps folks in the dark."