Common Sense Labeling

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The U.S. Senate wisely voted down a bad amendment to the farm bill last week, meaning that consumers won’t see their food bills skyrocket for no worthwhile reason.

So that’s good news. Yet this is Washington, D.C., where the threat of harmful legislation remains alive and well–and we the people must remain on guard.

As the House of Representatives begins to consider its own version of the farm bill, it too must oppose efforts by anti-biotech activists to encourage a patchwork of confusing regulations that would make food much more expensive without improving it even a tiny bit.

In the United States and around the world, we’re fighting a war over food. Most people don’t even know that it’s going on, but it affects all of us. The conflict pits ordinary consumers and farmers like you and me against radical activists and professional protestors.

We all want a plentiful supply of wholesome and safe food at a reasonable price. Their scheme is to devastate modern means of crop production for the sake of an anti-scientific agenda that will make it harder for families to feed themselves.

The war has many fronts, from international agencies to state capitols. The latest assault took place in the U.S. Senate. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont–an “independent” who calls himself a socialist--offered an amendment to the farm bill.

On the face of it, the Sanders amendment sounded reasonable: It would have granted states the right to establish their own rules for labeling food that contains biotech ingredients. In the last year, legislators in 19 states have offered three dozen bills on this matter, according to Packaging Digest. This November, California voters will weigh a ballot initiative to require labels on food that may contain GM ingredients.

Yet think about where state-by-state labeling could lead: 50 states with 50 different sets of rules about what information must appear on consumer products. Special-interest groups would have a field day. A dairy state might stop companies from printing the saturated-fat content on cartons of ice cream. Georgia could require peaches from South Carolina to carry labels urging people not to buy them. Just imagine what the busybodies in New York City might try to do. The mayor already is on a crusade to ban soda pop.

Before long, food companies would have to package the same food in a variety of ways. For most of us, Coke cans and Pepsi bottles probably would continue to look much as they do now. In New York, however, perhaps they’d carry skull-and-crossbones images.

That may sound extreme, but something like it is already going on: A group called “Label It Yourself” encourages activists to print their own warning stickers, visit grocery stores, and slap them on items that may contain biotech ingredients.

Few states would go this far. Yet incompatible rules could proliferate from state to state–and our food would start to cost more.

When an assembly line has to stop and reconfigure, production slows down and prices go up. If food companies have to change the look of their products, just to comply with an array of crazy-quilt regulations, consumers will pay more for food.

The labels wouldn’t make food safer because biotech ingredients are already 100-percent safe, as the federal government and groups ranging from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to the American Medical Association have determined. The labels simply would convey information that consumers don’t need, while also making our grocery-store bills rise.

Moreover, there’s a simple solution already in place. People who want to avoid biotech food already can do so by purchasing organic food. If the label says the food is organic, then it doesn’t have biotech ingredients.

For those who accept modern science and technology, and wish to continue to have access to a plentiful supply of wholesome and inexpensive food, a mandatory label is unnecessary and will only raise costs.

In the Senate, the Sanders amendment lost by a wide margin: 26 in favor, 73 opposed. If a new version comes up in the House, let’s hope that it loses again.

It would show that even in Congress, common sense can prevail.

Terry Wanzek is a wheat, corn and soybean farmer in North Dakota.  He serves as a ND State Senator and volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

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Terry Wanzek

Terry Wanzek is a fourth generation North Dakota farmer. In partnership with his parents and brother, Terry and his family raise spring wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, dry edible beans and sunflowers on 11,000 acres. A ND State seed certified processing plant and 150 head beef cow herd are part of their operation. Terry was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1992 and became a member of the North Dakota Senate, serving from 1994 to 2002. While Chairman of the ND Senate Ag Committee, he led ND ag policy, was instrumental in defeating a proposed ND moratorium on biotech wheat and led a study on biotechnology and renewable fuels. He was re-elected to the State Senate again in 2006 and is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, vice chair of the Senate Industry Business & Labor Committee, and serves on the Workforce Safety & Review Committee. Currently, Terry serves on the National Association of Wheat Growers Budget Committee and the Nodak Mutual Insurance Company. He also served as a gubernatorial appointee to the ND Legislative Compensation Committee. Terry is a former Farm Bureau county president as well as past county president of the Stutsman County Ag Improvement Association and past president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. He is also a founding member of the Growers for Biotechnology organization. Terry graduated from Jamestown College with a degree in Business Administration and Accounting. He is also a graduate of the Texas A&M TEPAP (The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers) program.

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