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Readers' views for Feb. 1, 2013

Published on February 1, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on March 1, 2013 9:10AM

How labels can help farmers

The debate surrounding the labeling of GMO agricultural commodities is full of knee-jerk reactions and finger pointing and, well, "labeling," of opposing viewpoints (such as "Farmers feel label fatigue," Jan. 17).

For several years I split my time between genetic research and farming, and the personal experience of the complexity of the one and economic reality of the other leaves me without a strong opinion on this issue.

However, I would like to point out something that I haven't heard yet in the heated discussions. This is that additional labeling -- either by requiring the identification of those products that contain GMOs or through an optional certification process to identify those that do not -- could create market segmentation in crops where there is currently little or none, such as corn and wheat.

The introduction of both mandatory labels, such as "Nutrition Facts" and "Ingredients," as well as optional labels such as "U.S. grown" and "Organic," have helped to create a multitiered pricing system for many agricultural commodities. This has been of huge significance for many meat and vegetable producers as it has allowed them to pursue specialty markets rather than all competing on the same level.

An additional "GMO" label could have a similar effect for grain and forage crops, which are currently difficult to grow organically and are rarely sold from roadside stands or at farmers' markets. To what extent consumers would embrace or shun GMO products cannot be answered now, but as the market for beef ranges from local grass fed 4-H raised Black Angus steers to "lean finely textured beef," it is hard to imagine that a distinction between GMO and non-GMO corn, for example, would prove to be overwhelming to consumers or would necessarily by detrimental to farmers.

Jon Eldon

Santa Cruz, Calif.


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