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COLUMN: Minnesota farmers need state's senators to act on GMO labeling

CALLAWAY, Minn.--Unless the U.S. Senate takes immediate action, Minnesota farmers stand to be seriously hurt within two months by a Vermont law requiring special labels for products made with genetically modified ingredients.

Karolyn Zurn
Callaway, Minn., farmer Karolyn Zurn, shown here in her home office, was part of the successful effort to raise her state's biodiesel mandate.

CALLAWAY, Minn.-Unless the U.S. Senate takes immediate action, Minnesota farmers stand to be seriously hurt within two months by a Vermont law requiring special labels for products made with genetically modified ingredients.

Minnesota's agriculture not only helps feed the world but also is highly valuable to our state economy, with our state's crop sales topping $13.8 billion in 2012.

Over the past two decades, these crops have been grown more efficiently and affordably thanks to the use of genetically modified organisms.

The genetic traits contained in GMOs let farmers grow more crops while using less water, less land and fewer pesticides. This helps reduce costs for farmers and consumers.

Roughly 93 percent of our state's corn, 94 percent of our soybeans and 95 percent of our sugar beets are now GMO.

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The safety of GMOs is well-established in the scientific community. They have been part of our nation's food supply for more than 20 years without incident.

Every major scientific and health organization that has examined GMOs has concluded they are as safe as any other food.

Despite the great benefits of GMOs, small numbers of activists are fighting to impose new state laws that would require special labels for food produced with this technology. They succeeded in Vermont, where a GMO-Iabeling law will go into effect in July.

In spite of being a small state, Vermont's law will have massive ramifications around the country and especially here in Minnesota.

For generations, Americans have been able to count on a national food labeling system. This system helps streamline the production and distribution of food products, keeping grocery bills affordable.

It is simply not feasible for many producers to develop state-specific food labels. That's why Vermont's GMO-labeling law soon will be impacting the other 49 states.

Food producers understand that these labels will have a stigmatizing effect on their products, with many consumers incorrectly viewing them as a warning. As a result, many food companies have already begun to reformulate their products and only source non-GMO ingredients.

Last month, Dannon became the latest food company to make such an announcement, which included a commitment to ensuring their farmers' cows are given non-GMO feed.

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Before Dannon's decision, other food companies had made similar announcements. As these companies abandon GMO ingredients, Minnesota farmers will face immense pressure to abandon GMO technology.

This will raise costs and require the use of more resources such as land and water.

Anyone who has worked in agriculture can appreciate the difficult task facing farmers, who must produce steady yields while coping with uncertainties such as commodity prices, droughts and floods.

GMO technology makes their job more manageable while making food more affordable. It is unacceptable that Vermont legislators can dictate the future of Minnesota farming.

As the clock ticks down to July 1 and the impending enforcement of Vermont's law, Minnesota farmers understandably are anxious. Their one remaining hope is for Congress to intervene and create a national labeling framework that grants more information to consumers while protecting farmers and GM technology.

The U.S. House passed legislation on a bipartisan basis last summer that would have done just that. But action has stalled in the Senate.

Without Senate action in the next few weeks, Vermont will succeed in killing a technology essential to our farmers.

It's never been more important for Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to be our voice in Washington. With her position on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Klobuchar in particular could be a leader in getting a solution enacted.

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We need it now. Time is running out.

Zurn is owner of Bill Zurn Farms and president of Minnesota Agri-Women.

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