In a world consumed by daily deadlines, social media and a myriad of other distractions, it's natural to seek out things that can help us feel more grounded, to find a sense of place. Many people feel like they have lost their connection to the land and are looking to establish or restore a connection with their food. So they gravitate to labels and taglines that make them feel good--labels that create a "story" but don't offer much information in return.
This is where it's up to farmers to help bridge the gap with consumers looking to understand where their food comes from. They have a unique perspective because of their connection to the land and soil every day, and while agriculture today looks far different than it did for past generations, the passion and care today's farmers have for the land has not changed. They just have better tools.
Thanks to new innovations, farmers are making great strides in reducing their environmental impact while producing more food than ever before. Biotech crops alone have made it possible for farmers to cut back pesticide use by over 36 percent compared to non-biotech crops and increase yields by over 21 percent. This has a positive ripple effect as machine and fuel use is cut down as well.
Farmers rely on science and must be grounded in it to provide the abundance that they do. Unfortunately, there are those who misunderstand and misrepresent agricultural innovation. But a few vocal opponents shouldn't be allowed to dictate what farmers can and cannot grow on their farmland or unnecessarily scare consumers.
Yet that is just what we're seeing with state mandates like Vermont's GMO labeling law. The first of its kind, this law from a small state will have a big impact on farmers, ranchers, businesses and food manufacturers across the nation when it takes effect July 1, unless preempted by a new, federal law.
Two years ago, a Cornell University study estimated the cost of a patchwork of state GMO labeling laws to be an additional $500 per year for a family of four. A more recent study doubled the estimate to more than $1,000 a year for a family of four. The cost could easily be much higher than that when product reformulation and lost agricultural productivity are considered. The cost will be higher still for farmers and ranchers, and the land, if mandatory labeling prompts companies to stop using GM ingredients altogether.
Farm Bureau is not opposed to voluntary GMO labeling. We are opposed to mandatory and state-by-state labeling laws. We believe the market and consumers should decide.
If a company wants to put a non-GMO label on its product, as long as that label is truthful and not misleading, that company should be free to do so. Since the nutritional makeup of food products from GMO crops is the same as traditional food, the Food and Drug Administration does not require labeling of GMO foods. But consumers already have easy access to non-GMO foods if that's their wish: They can buy food certified as organic by the Agriculture Department. We've grown so accustomed to having an abundance of food options that it's easy to lose sight of how fortunate we are to have such variety.
But we lose all that and more if we shutdown agricultural innovation: Farmers and ranchers and consumers will all feel the loss. It is time for agriculture to take a stand and protect tools that are critical to the future of farming. Farmers and ranchers must take charge of telling their story. If not, there are plenty of other people out there who are more than willing to craft a story for agriculture. And they are more than willing to tell you how to ru(i)n your farm.
Andrew Walmsley is a director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.This column was originally published in the June|July 2016 issue of Rural Route, a Wisconsin Farm Bureau publication.