Science doesn’t support GMO fears - February 2016

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Every year, right after the new year begins, Farm Bureau delegates from all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico meet at the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting to discuss and debate policy issues for the coming year. We had an added twist when Bob Stallman, who has served as president of the AFBF for 16 years, announced earlier in the year he would not seek the position.

Unlike national politics, the field of possible candidates didn't expand to a number that would be larger than several Wyoming high-school graduating classes. We did have two candidates from the Western Region, with Kevin Rogers from Arizona and Barry Bushue from Oregon running for the position.

In the endZippy Duvall from Georgia was elected president of the AFBF. The exciting news for many of us was the selection of Cole Coxbill to lead the AFBF Young Farmer and Rancher Committee.

We in Wyoming can certainly be proud of Cole and his wife Sammie for their achievement. We certainly want to congratulate him for this achievement. When you come from the least populated state in the nation, you get used to only having a few votes when deciding things on a national level. Given the nature of politics both inside and outside of Farm Bureau we certainly have to say that while we in Wyoming don't have the number of votes to sway things on a national level we certainly have the ability to surface quality people to represent us. Cole proves that numbers don't always matter when you have quality.

It will make it tough on future leaders in the organization to top what he's done, but I feel confident that we can keep sending quality people to represent us here in Wyoming.

Another thing that happens at the AFBF meeting are educational workshops and I attended some good ones. One of the workshops I enjoyed was presented by Mark Lynas who spoke on GMOs and how he, as an environmentalist, changed his mind about them. Being at the forefront in the battle against GMOs before he changed his mind, it was interesting to see his perspective on how we need to overcome these groups. He readily admitted that the science doesn't support the fear that has been generated by these anti-GMO activists. He pointed out that fear of GMOs has had significant consequences in third world countries with crop failures and citizens from those countries suffering as a result.

The current forefront of the GMO/anti-GMO debate is labeling requirements. A few states have passed laws requiring that products containing GMOs should be labeled. Shortly before Mr. Lynas' talk, Campbell announced they would start labeling their products that contain GMOs. Mr. Lynas supports labeling products that contain GMOs and upon a question from the audience argued that a definition of a genetically modified product should be broad. His reason would be to show Americans that we've been raising and consuming GMOs for decades and that a lot of what people sell as organic would also have to be labeled as containing genetically modified organisms.

This labeling dilemma is about to play out in another arena where FDA has begun the process to define what is “natural”. Many food industry insiders have the same fears about this effort as folks have about a GMO label. The definition of what is natural can be just as elusive as what has been modified genetically or what is sustainable. On the other hand the marketing departments of food companies will look for any advantage to differentiate their product. That's why we have extensive standards for organic food. Marketers were saying foods were organic because they felt they could better market their product. After a while the organic producers got tired of someone trying to sell something as organic when it really wasn't. Now we'll see what FDA calls “natural” and eventually we might have to have a conversation about what is genetically modified and what isn't.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President