GMO Labeling in Oregon

17 Feb

Another round of GMO talks has started at the legislature and all around Oregon.  This issue has, although failing in both California and Washington in recent years, come to Oregon to see if it can get a foothold.  I testified last week with a panel of other farmers to talk about why I don’t think that mandatory labeling of foods that contain GMO products is a good thing.

Because of the limit time allotment and the other farmers on the panel, I spoke only to what GMO labeling I felt could do to the specialty crop industry, what it means for businesses in Oregon and what it means to me as a consumer and a soon to be mom.  Obviously this issue is larger that just what I covered, but read knowing that again, I was on an entire panel covering those other areas that I might be missing.  You can read Marie Bower’s Testimony on her blog as well by clicking here.

Chairwoman Hoyle and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for having me here today.  My name is Brenda Frketich and I’m a third generation farmer from St. Paul.  My 1,000 acre sustainable farm grows wheat, grass seed, clover, hazelnuts and vegetables.  While I don’t grow any GMO crops now, I think that the future of agriculture not only in Oregon but in the nation is moving towards using new technology. 

 I am against the labeling of GMOs for a few reasons.  Even as a farmer who doesn’t currently rely on GM technology for the specific crops on my farm, I can see that labeling will quickly add to the level of fear and emotion that people have behind the subject of GMOs in their food.  And in turn I feel like it will put farmers in this state at a terrible disadvantage.  Not just in a marketing sense, but also for future research.  Right now being a grower in mostly specialty crops, research for our sector is not being funded.  Not because those development can’t help our industry, but because fear has caused consumers to move away from those products that are produced using GMO technology. 

 A good example of this is in the hazelnut industry.  Oregon has a long tradition of growing hazelnuts, we actually produce 98% of the US hazelnuts right there in this state.  About 25 to 30 years ago blight came into our area and started to kill off our orchards, today we rely on anywhere from 4 to 5 sprays a year along with hours and hours of pruning to keep our trees healthy, and even then for many of our orchards it’s a losing battle.  As many of you have possibly seen there has been a boom in planting, because Oregon State University, after 20 years of research has come up with a gene that can be bred in the trees to help resist the blight, moving that number of sprays down to one, maybe even zero!  This is great for our industry and for our state to be competitive on a worldwide level, but it took 20 years to get this research done.  Research that could have been accomplished much faster if the money for gene mapping technology could have been available.  Not to mention the continual amount of research that could have continued to take place in the past 2 decades helping us work to combat pests such as filbert worm or the stink bug that continues to plague our orchards today.  These are the types of advances that we need to be researching and working towards, if you start to play into the fear of the use of GMOs however, these dollars for research will never come forward.

 In business to be successful you have to produce a high quality product, while at the same time trying to be the lowest cost producer.  And while GMO has time and time again proven to be a safe and not nutritionally different than their non-GMO counterparts I think that this option of being able to grow GMO crops in the future will be instrumental in farming here in Oregon.  If you start to add labels to the food which farmers produced, in a healthy, sustainable way, usually more sustainable than compared to their non GMO counterparts, you are now taking away some of the marketing advantage that those farmers rely on.

 The cost alone of re-labeling products will be a burden on our state.  Not just for farmers, but for processors as well.  Pricing that includes extensive testing, and at whose cost? I agree that there is a market for businesses who want to use non-GMO crops in their food, just like there is a market for organically grown produce.  But I think that if companies want to take advantage of that market, then they can label their products non-GMO, they have that right.  The cost burden should be on them however.  While I was at Bob’s Red Mill just last month I was told that they were coming out with a line of products just like this, labeled non-GMO.  They said that they felt there was a market for it, so they were taking the burden on themselves to make that label.  They aren’t however labeling their products that they do use GMO crops in as “containing GMO”, I’m guessing this is because they know this would be a disadvantage for them in marketing this line.

 But it’s not just about us farmers and businesses, this issue is also about consumers.  As a consumer myself, as a wife and a new mom in the near future I understand how fear can create a lot of power especially in issues such as what you feed your kids and family.  But when I take a step back from the benefits that go directly to the farmers, and take a look at arguments from the perspective of an everyday mom in the grocery story buying food’s perspective, all I see is a lot of fear marketing.  Fear about what is in our food, and not much of anything significant to back that up.  Fear that can be caused by a label that really doesn’t mean anything but somehow provokes me to not want to buy the food.  The label “Contains GMO” implies that there is some derogatory nutritional difference, that it might be unhealthy, and that you are taking a risk in feeding this to your family.  When the reality is that it just might be healthier for your family like in the instance of golden rice which contains vitamin A.  In some cases all it means is that a sex chromosome was removed so they can harvest oysters for us to enjoy fresh in the summer.  Or that they altered a gene that was already in the plant allow the plant to grow with a fraction of the water, a costly and scarce resource for many. 

 So as you can see I’m coming to you not just as a farmer and a business woman, but also as a consumer.  I agree that GMOs should be continually tested, to monitor how this technology can be used to help farmers and consumers alike and continue to help with food safety.  But I feel that labeling these products right now will only drive the wedge deeper between the emotional decisions and fear marketing that is being used to deter people from making informed and rational decisions about their food.

 Thank you for your time.

So what do you think…should labeling of GMO products in Oregon should be mandatory??

10 Responses to “GMO Labeling in Oregon”

  1. Janet Kithcart February 24, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Dear Brenda, my only concern about GMO crops that have pesticides infused in the actual fibers of the plants. Also what about plants that are engineered to be able to accept greater amounts of round-up. Is this considered healthy food for us to be feeding our families?

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    • Nuttygrass February 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Janet. I agree that this sounds scary but I would go back to the continuation of research that has to be done. Also many of the new technologies that are coming out are looking at different herbicides to move away from round up which is a good thing for everyone. I would encourage you to learn more by checking out the food dialogues at http://www.fooddialogues.com/events/food-dialogues℠-new-york. At the bottom there is a video about biotechnology and is very interesting. They have a scientist who easily explains the process of how accurate and specific GMOs and biotechnology is developed.

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  2. Janice Person aka JPlovesCOTTON February 17, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    You make some great points Brenda. Thanks for your willingness to speak up.

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    • Gene Taylor February 18, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      Yes, it should be mandatory. The cost of testing and labeling should fall on those using and producing the technology, not those who choose not to.

      But while reasonable people can disagree on whether labels should be required, I’d like to know how GMO labeling is any different than country of origin labeling, which the Farm Bureau supports right? Neither are really about health information, so why support one being required on labels, but not the other?

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      • Nuttygrass February 19, 2014 at 8:29 am #

        The cost of testing I believe will actually fall on the shoulders of those using the technology AND those who do not. Otherwise how are we going to know in the future what is and what isn’t a GMO product? We saw a good example of this when the GMO wheat was found in Oregon and the reality that ALL lots of wheat would have to be tested. Plus farmers are already paying for the technology in the high cost that they pay for seed stock. That’s why I think that those who benefit the greatest, for example those who can hit a niche market and charge a premium for their product, should be the ones who voluntarily label their products. Just like it is in the organic market.

        I can’t speak for the farm bureau on this issue. For me personally I see a difference because where a product comes from, although not nutritional information, states a fact that is easy for everyone to understand. When you start to label something with an issue that people don’t understand, such as GMO or non-GMO, they assume that it is giving nutritional information when the reality is that it is not. County of origin is much more straight forward and also allows you to support American Made for instance, pay a premium at times for those products, and those companies are benefiting from that. It goes back again to that niche marketing that many companies want to hit. Also I believe that country of origin is covering entire countries, not just a state by state basis. Oregon is such a small player in the big picture of the economy and it would be detrimental to segregate ourselves from larger markets.

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