BOISE — If individual states start requiring the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, it would have a negative impact on agriculture and consumers, according to a representative of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association.
“The cost of farming and food (would) be impacted,” John Hewitt told Idaho lawmakers near the end of the recent legislative session.
Food products grown using GMO technology require fewer pesticides, less water and they keeps production costs down while increasing crop yields, Hewitt said.
What happens with the GMO labeling issue will determine the ability of farmers to use modern technology, he added.
Hewitt said every credible study on the issue has shown that food with GMO ingredients is safe and there are no negative health effects associated with their use.
“The use of genetically modified ingredients is safe for people and for our planet,” he said.
Genetically engineered food has been declared safe by the USDA, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, Health Canada, the National Academy of Sciences and numerous other domestic and global food safety agencies, he said.
“The debate should be over but that’s not necessarily the case,” Hewitt said. “There is still debate and discussion (over) whether these products are safe.”
GMO technology has facilitated an agricultural revolution in the United States but those advances are threatened by an attempt to pass bills that would create a patchwork of labeling requirements on the state and local level, he said.
About 80 percent of the food consumed in the United States contains ingredients that have been genetically modified and mandatory labeling requirements would increase costs significantly, he said.
He said recent studies show that a mandatory GMO labeling requirement in California would increase costs to that state’s food producers by $1.2 billion a year and it would increase the average family’s grocery bill by more than $400 a year.
According to one of the studies, conducted by Northbridge, an environmental management consultant, some farmers would switch to growing non-GMO crops and those that don’t would risk losing sales “as food companies search elsewhere for non-GE ingredients.”
Because GMO technology has reduced the cost of growing certain crops, those farmers’ cost of production would increase as they are forced to apply more herbicides and other chemical inputs.
Hewitt said the GMA, which represents more than 300 food and beverage companies, is opposed to state and local efforts to impose mandatory GMO labeling requirements.
The group believes the nation’s food labeling laws should be determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is pushing federal legislation that would accomplish that.
The FDA’s evaluation of biotech food focuses only on its characteristics, not the method used to develop it, he said.
Hewitt pointed out the FDA has already found GMO food products to be safe and said giving that agency food labeling authority would be fair to farmers, manufacturers and consumers.
In response to a question from Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, Trent Clark, director of public and government affairs for Monsanto, said scientists have only begun to explore the potential benefits of genetically engineered technology.
Andrus, a sheep rancher and chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, asked Hewitt whether there would be further advances in GMO technology and Hewitt deferred to Clark, who was in the audience.
“We’ve barley touched the edge of the iceberg, Mr. Chairman,” Clark said.