• Think carefully about labeling law
    April 06,2014
    Albert J. Marro / Staff File Photo

    The GMO labeling bill would have a significant effect on Vermont growers and sellers. Here, John Monson adds a swan gourd to a display at Woodstock Farmerís Market in this October 2010 photo.

    The decision by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a bill requiring labels on foods made with ingredients derived from GMO seeds, whether or not there is any detectable level of them in the product, is a dangerous slope to go down.

    Before the Senate votes on the bill, they should make sure they have all the facts. This is a decision that will have a significant impact on everyone in the state because Vermont will be the only state in the country to go it alone. So as legislators consider the information presented to them, they should make sure it is conclusive, vetted and well thought through.

    And whether you are for or against labeling, there are some facts that seem to be getting lost in the proverbial ďhe says / she saysĒ debate. For instance, those who are for labeling like to point to Europe as being GMO-free. The truth is that European regulations allow 0.9 percent of GMOs in all foods. But you donít see that fact widely disseminated.

    Other logistical issues havenít been thought through. Take testing. What exactly will qualify as GMO-free? Many products might meet the standard of non-GMO through the processing they go through, yet their ingredients might contain GMOs.

    And then thereís the problem of who will monitor the non-GMO foods. We only have a few health inspectors, and they can barely cover their current workload. We are receiving funding from the Food and Drug Administration for their salaries.

    The FDA does not have a policy on whether GMO products should be labeled; therefore the funds we currently receive cannot, and should not, be used to create the GMO police. Where is the money going to come from to create, train and establish this position, and that of a supervisor and administrative person? The reality is, we donít know because no oneís talking about that.

    Vermonters are very proud, and specialty foods play an important role in that attitude. Many specialty food producers are small businesses. Most of the products made by Vermontís specialty food companies are sold out of state. That means theyíll be at a distinct disadvantage to their competitors who donít have to label their products.

    They will be forced to incur added expense to label their foods. They will have to either pass that cost along to the consumer or take a hit themselves. If they choose the latter, it could potentially prove to be too much to stay in business. When the cost is passed on to the consumer, the business could effectively be priced out of the market.

    There will be other repercussions as well. Our choices at the grocery stores will most certainly be limited if this legislation is passed. As it stands now, Vermont would be the only state for which food manufacturers would have to create a special label. While a couple of other states have passed labeling laws, they have done so with the caveat that others states do the same.

    Itís a protective measure designed to ensure their individual states donít suffer consequences. We are a state of roughly 600,000 people ó not big by a long shot. Food companies could well decide itís just not worth it to label their goods just for Vermont, even if that means not selling their products here. Keep in mind that 70-80 percent of food on our grocery shelves has genetically engineered foods in them.

    More important, labeling of foods shouldnít be done on the state level, but rather the federal level. The FDA could create rules or Congress could enact a law.

    Several states have tried to enact labeling laws. The bottom line: Many have found consumers donít want them, and others have decided not to go it alone.

    If, after truly understanding and researching all the scientific facts surrounding genetically altered foods, Vermont legislators decide to pass a labeling law, they can do so with a clear conscience. But if they do so based on opinions being presented as facts or logistics not thought through properly, they will have to own the consequences.

    Kim Crosby is president of Vermont Roots, a specialty food distributor.

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