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Label debate refuses to die

Published on May 20, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on June 17, 2011 8:38AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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The latest incarnation of the movement to label genetically modified food ingredients appears at first blush to be a consumer-oriented effort to provide full disclosure about what we eat.

A second glance, however, reveals it to be not so much about consumer education as an all-out attack against a single company, Monsanto, which has developed and marketed a variety of genetically modified products and seeds. The website of the Organic Consumers Association vilifies the company on many fronts.

In itself, it is what it is. If that group wants to exercise its free speech rights, so be it.

But as a public policy, one has to question the wisdom and the practicality of forcing every food provider to label any ingredient that is genetically modified. While it is certainly possible in theory, testing every ingredient used to make any given food is bound to create a huge burden for the smallest farmers' market participant or the largest food processor.

It is no secret that genetically modified crops are widespread in the U.S. and some parts of the world. Seeds developed by Monsanto -- and other companies -- have proved to be a boon to those farmers who have chosen to use them. The higher yields and the reduction in pesticide use they allow make them both profitable and beneficial to the environment.

Proponents of the genetically modified label reject that and are attacking on several fronts.

They want to gather 1 million signatures in an effort to force Congress to require the labels. Failing that, they want to force local and state governments to require the labels.

They also want to convince grocery stores to label foods.

Oregonians no doubt are experiencing a sense of deja vu. In 2002 they rejected by a 70-30 margin an initiative that would have required all food sold in the state to be labeled whether it contained genetically modified ingredients. During that campaign, the argument centered on the practicality of using different labels in different states.

That concern still remains. That proponents want every state, county or city to require labels would present a vexing challenge to every producer, small and large.

The fact of the matter is that a government-approved label already exists that tells consumers whether food has genetically modified ingredients. It is the organic label. Only crops certified as organic can carry that label. Anyone buying milk, corn flakes or any other food with the green organic label affixed can be assured that no genetically modified ingredients are present.

For consumers who wish to avoid genetically modified foods, no other label is needed.


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