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January 1, 2014

Maine Voices: Farmers support honesty, right to know regarding GMO food

BRIDGEWATER — The one fact most abundantly clear in the genetically modified organisms labeling debate is the unprecedented and nearly unanimous support of American citizens who favor the right to know if they are eating food containing GMOs. This fact stands in stark contrast to the fiction invented by Monsanto and furthered by Gordon Colby in his recent misleading op-ed piece (“Maine Voices: Consider scientific facts, not emotional campaigns, when checking GMOs,” Dec. 11).

As a potato farmer in Aroostook County, I would like to add another important point of clarity to this discussion: American farmers, just like their non-farmer counterparts, fully support the consumer’s right to know about GMO food. Right-to-know labeling offers basic transparency, and it does not offer a value judgment as to whether GMOs are good or bad.

Farmers understand that transparency is vital for a thriving economy and democracy. GMO labeling will inform and allow the free market to operate, enabling citizens to make responsible purchasing decisions.

Last spring, the Aroostook County Farm Bureau board of directors endorsed Maine’s GMO labeling bill, L.D. 718. Farmers understand that L.D. 718 is a consumer right-to-know bill aimed at labeling processed food and has virtually no impact on farmers.

In October, at the annual meeting of the Aroostook County Farm Bureau, members voted unanimously to ratify the decision of their board to endorse L.D. 718. Furthermore, these Aroostook County farmers directed their leadership to support endorsement of L.D. 718 at the Maine State Farm Bureau annual meeting in Bar Harbor in November. There, after vigorous debate, a vote was cast by delegates who represented farmers from the entire state. The delegates voted overwhelmingly to endorse L.D. 718.

The Maine Farm Bureau isn’t the only farmers organization supporting GMO labeling. Other highly respected farm organizations also understand that GMO labeling offers reasonable transparency and has won their endorsement.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has been a leader and strong supporter of L.D. 718. In fact, GMO labeling transparency was long a goal of MOFGA Executive Director Russell Libby, prior to his passing, and was established as one of MOFGA’s top priorities for 2013.

Furthermore, the national trade organization, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, based in the Maine town of Washington, supports L.D. 718 and dozens of other GMO labeling efforts at both the state and federal level. Farmers across the border in the New Hampshire Grange, at their fall annual meeting, also endorsed the labeling of GMO food.

The National Farmers Union, as well as its local chapter, the New England Farmers Union, has established clear, intelligent policies addressing consumer concerns. Their positions mirror one another, and both farmers groups support mandatory labeling of GMO food.

Responsible farmers and their organizations support GMO labeling. Mr. Colby’s hostility to consumer interests identifies him as a clear outlier. Importantly, he does not represent the views of his own blueberry industry. The fact is, the Wild Blueberry Commission decided to remain neutral on L.D. 718.

In fact, GMO labeling is remarkably popular. Last spring, a scientific Pan-Atlantic poll showed that 91 percent of Maine voters favored legislation enshrining their right to know about GMOs.

Similarly, just a few weeks ago, a scientific Mellman poll indicated that 90 percent of New Hampshire voters support GMO labeling. These two New England polls document broad, nearly unanimous support for GMO labeling among Republicans, independents and Democrats.

Time and again, national polls have shown similarly phenomenal support for GMO labeling: 93 percent in a July 2013 New York Times poll; 96 percent in a February 2011 MSNBC poll, and 93 percent in an October 2010 Reuters/NPR poll.

Last spring, Maine’s two leading daily newspapers, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, both endorsed Maine’s GMO labeling bill. L.D. 718 enjoyed the support of 123 legislative co-sponsors. When the measure came up for floor votes in the Legislature, it passed by huge margins: 141-4 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate.

Internationally, 64 countries in the world, representing more than half the world’s population – including Europe, Asia, South Africa, Russia and China – have GMO labeling.

Mainers uniformly support GMO labeling. The Maine Legislature has acted responsively and responsibly. Mainers now expect Gov. LePage to make good on his promise to sign L.D. 718 into law in January.

Farmers stand alongside their fellow citizens: All of us want our right to know.

— Special to the Press Herald





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