Monsanto officials speak to state's
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A Boise political action group is pushing for legislation that would require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients in Idaho.
GMO Free Idaho co-founder Leslie Stoddard said the group might pursue a ballot initiative if the Idaho Legislature fails to pass legislation addressing the issue.
Members of GMO Free Idaho were present Feb. 18 as Monsanto Co. officials briefed members of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee on the benefits and future of genetically modified crops.
Stoddard said her group is gathering facts and support now and will pursue mandatory GMO labeling legislation during the next session.
"We have a year to rally the troops, to educate and to get some press and get this legislation going," she said.
According to the group's website, GMO Free Idaho is dedicated to "eliminating GMOs from our food supply."
Group members filmed the Monsanto presentation, which provided a basic overview of agricultural biotechnology and future developments that could benefit farmers.
Crops genetically modified to resist glyphosate herbicides are sold under the trade name Roundup Ready, and are licensed by Monsanto. Virtually all of the sugar beets grown in Idaho are modified to resist glyphosate.
Monsanto was invited by the House ag committee chairman to discuss how biotechnology impacts agriculture.
George Gough, who oversees Monsanto's government affairs division, said the safety and effectiveness of Roundup Ready crops has been proven by multiple federal agencies and farmers.
He said 16 million farmers around the world grew 395 million acres of biotech crops in 2011, and producers grow the crops every year because they increase productivity and decrease input costs.
"If you sell them one thing one year that doesn't work, they're not going to come back and use it again," said Gough, who used corn as an example of how biotechnology has resulted in significant production gains.
While the average corn yield in this country was 72.4 bushels per acre in 1970, he said, it was 122 bushels per acre in 2012 and Monsanto officials project it will reach 300 bushels by 2030.
Gough said similar biotechnology gains among other crops are needed to feed an increasing global population projected to reach 8.4 billion by 2030.
"We have to do a lot more with a lot less than we have now. We're not making any more land," he said.
He said the company is researching higher-yielding wheat with herbicide-tolerant traits, and a drought-tolerant corn variety that will be launched commercially on a limited basis this year could prove useful in the arid West.
"It doesn't turn corn into cactus. You still need water," he said. "But it helps to minimize the yield loss (associated with drought)."
Idaho Grain Producers Association lobbyist Dar Olberding said he was impressed with the 300-bushel-per-acre corn projection and was encouraged by the work being done to improve wheat yields.
"I think what's coming down the pipe with wheat is going to make a great improvement to the industry," he said.