New York is looking out for bees and other pollinators: View
You don’t have to travel far in New York to see the abundance of crops that our state produces.
While our farmers work hard all year to ensure fresh fruits and vegetables are available, many of us might forget about a critical, sometimes unseen work force that allows for successful growing seasons — pollinators.
Bees, bats, hummingbirds, butterflies and other species are critical to the environment, and to the agricultural sector that contributes $500 million annually to New York’s economy.
It’s been said that one out of every three bites of food we take is produced with the help of pollinators. Plants and bees and other species rely on each other for survival. Pollinators take nectar back to their hives to produce honey, while at the same time help plants reproduce by transferring pollen on their bodies from the male to female part of the plant. This process works to develop seeds that turn into the many fruits and vegetables we eat every day.
But, pollinator populations have been in decline in recent years.
Why? Much is still unknown, but bees and other pollinators face many potential threats to their survival, including disease, misuse of pesticides, climate change, loss of habitat, lack of nutrients, poor management practices and a lack of genetic diversity.
In the years since, Cuomo and the state Legislature have dedicated $1 million to keep this critical research alive through the New York State Pollinator Protection Plan. It’s been a wise, forward looking investment.
Led by researchers at Cornell University, teams have been conducting research, working to restore hospitable habitats for pollinators and educating the general population about the need to protect the literal worker bees of our food production process.
At a time when so much focus is on cutting and slashing budgets, it is refreshing to see our lawmakers come together to protect our natural resources.
The writer, a Yonkers resident, is chairman of the New York Alliance for Environmental Concerns and operates a landscaping business in Westchester County.
Stillwater, Okla. — There is much to like about small, local farms and their influence on what we eat. But if we are to sustainably deal with problems presented by population growth and climate change, we need to look to the farmers who grow a majority of the country’s food and fiber.
Large farmers — who are responsible for 80 percent of the food sales in the United States, though they make up fewer than 8 percent of all farms, according to 2012 data from the Department of Agriculture — are among the most progressive, technologically savvy growers on the planet. Their technology has helped make them far gentler on the environment than at any time in history. And a new wave of innovation makes them more sustainable still.
A vast majority of the farms are family-owned. Very few, about 3 percent, are run by nonfamily corporations. Large farm owners (about 159,000) number fewer than the residents of a medium-size city like Springfield, Mo. Their wares, from milk, lettuce and beef to soy, are unlikely to be highlighted on the menus of farm-to-table restaurants, but they fill the shelves at your local grocery store.
There are legitimate fears about soil erosion, manure lagoons, animal welfare and nitrogen runoff at large farms — but it’s not just environmental groups that worry. Farmers are also concerned about fertilizer use and soil runoff.
That’s one reason they’re turning to high-tech solutions like precision agriculture. Using location-specific information about soil nutrients, moisture and productivity of the previous year, new tools, known as “variable rate applicators,” can put fertilizer only on those areas of the field that need it (which may reduce nitrogen runoff into waterways).
GPS signals drive many of today’s tractors, and new planters are allowing farmers to distribute seed varieties to diverse spots of a field to produce more food from each unit of land. They also modulate the amount and type of seed on each part of a field — in some places, leaving none at all.
Many food shoppers have difficulty comprehending the scale and complexity facing modern farmers, especially those who compete in a global marketplace. For example, the median lettuce field is managed by a farmer who has 1,373 football fields of that plant to oversee.
For tomatoes, the figure is 620 football fields; for wheat, 688 football fields; for corn, 453 football fields.
How are farmers able to manage growing crops on this daunting scale? Decades ago, they dreamed about tools to make their jobs easier, more efficient and better for the land: soil sensors to measure water content, drones, satellite images, alternative management techniques like low- and no-till farming, efficient irrigation and mechanical harvesters.
Today, that technology is a regular part of operations at large farms. Farmers watch the evolution of crop prices and track thunderstorms on their smartphones. They use livestock waste to create electricity using anaerobic digesters, which convert manure to methane. Drones monitor crop yields, insect infestations and the location and health of cattle. Innovators are moving high-value crops indoors to better control water use and pests.
Before “factory farming” became a pejorative, agricultural scholars of the mid-20th century were calling for farmers to do just that — become more factorylike and businesslike. From that time, farm sizes have risen significantly. It is precisely this large size that is often criticized today in the belief that large farms put profit ahead of soil and animal health.
But increased size has advantages, especially better opportunities to invest in new technologies and to benefit from economies of scale. Buying a $400,000 combine that gives farmers detailed information on the variations in crop yield in different parts of the field would never pay on just five acres of land; at 5,000 acres, it is a different story.
These technologies reduce the use of water and fertilizer and harm to the environment. Modern seed varieties, some of which were brought about by biotechnology, have allowed farmers to convert to low- and no-till cropping systems, and can encourage the adoption of nitrogen-fixing cover crops such as clover or alfalfa to promote soil health.
Herbicide-resistant crops let farmers control weeds without plowing, and the same technology allows growers to kill off cover crops if they interfere with the planting of cash crops. The herbicide-resistant crops have some downsides: They can lead to farmers’ using more herbicide (though the type of herbicide is important, and the new crops have often led to the use of safer, less toxic ones).
But in most cases, it’s a trade-off worth making, because they enable no-till farming methods, which help prevent soil erosion.
Improvements in agricultural technologies and production practices have significantly lowered the use of energy and water, and greenhouse-gas emissions of food production per unit of output over time. United States crop production now is twice what it was in 1970.
That would not be a good change if more land, water, pesticides and labor were being used. But that is not what happened: Agriculture is using nearly half the labor and 16 percent less land than it did in 1970.
Instead, farmers increased production through innovation. Wheat breeders, for example, using traditional techniques assisted by the latest genetic tools and information, have created varieties that resist disease without numerous applications of insecticides and fungicides. Nearly all corn and soybean farmers practice crop rotation, giving soil a chance to recover. Research is moving beyond simple measures of nitrogen and phosphorus content to look at the microbes in the soil.
New industrywide initiatives are focused on quantifying and measuring soil health. The goal is to provide measurements of factors affecting the long-term value of the soil and to identify which practices — organic, conventional or otherwise — will ensure that farmers can responsibly produce plenty of food for our grandchildren.
Over the past century, there has been a notable shift in Americans’ connection with food production. In 1900, about 40 percent of the United States population was on the farm, and 60 percent lived in rural areas. Today the respective figures are only about 1 percent and 20 percent. From the 1940s to the 1980s, the number of farms fell by more than half, and average farm size tripled. A result is that romantic, pastoral images of farming from yesteryear are far from representing reality.
Big problems face farmers and consumers. Climate change, food waste, growing world population, drought and water quality are just a few.
There are no easy answers, but innovation, entrepreneurship and technology have important roles to play. So, too, do the real-life large farmers who grow the bulk of our food.
107 Nobel laureates sign letter blasting Greenpeace over GMOs
More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.
“We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter states.
The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and, with Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns. The campaign has a website, supportprecisionagriculture.org, that includes a running list of the signatories, and the group plans to hold a news conference Thursday morning at the National Press Club in Washington.
“We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It’s easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science,” Roberts told The Washington Post. “Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause.”
Roberts said he endorses many other activities of Greenpeace, and said he hopes the group, after reading the letter, would “admit that this is an issue that they got wrong and focus on the stuff that they do well.”
Greenpeace has not yet responded to requests for comment on the letter. [Update: Greenpeace responded early Thursday — see statement below.] It is hardly the only group that opposes GMOs, but it has a robust global presence, and the laureates in their letter contend that Greenpeace has led the effort to block Golden Rice.
The list of signatories had risen to 107 names by Wednesday morning. Roberts said that, by his count, there are 296 living laureates.
Nobel laureate Randy Schekman, a cell biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, told The Post, “I find it surprising that groups that are very supportive of science when it comes to global climate change, or even, for the most part, in the appreciation of the value of vaccination in preventing human disease, yet can be so dismissive of the general views of scientists when it comes to something as important as the world’s agricultural future.”
The letter states:
Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.
Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.
The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people, suffer from VAD, including 40 percent of the children under five in the developing world. Based on UNICEF statistics, a total of one to two million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of VAD, because it compromises the immune system, putting babies and children at great risk. VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally affecting 250,000 – 500,000 children each year. Half die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.
The scientific consensus is that that gene editing in a laboratory is not more hazardous than modifications through traditional breeding, and that engineered plants potentially have environmental or health benefits, such as cutting down on the need for pesticides. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released in May, said there is no substantiated evidence that GMO crops have sickened people or harmed the environment, but also cautioned that such crops are relatively new and that it is premature to make broad generalizations, positive or negative, about their safety.
Opponents of GMOs have said these crops may not be safe for human or animal consumption, have not been shown to improve crop yields, have led to excessive use of herbicides and can potentially spread engineered genes beyond the boundaries of farms.
Genetic engineering enables scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes in a way that does not occur naturally.
These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non ‘GE’ environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.
Virtually all crops and livestock have been genetically engineered in the broadest sense; there are no wild cows, and the cornfields of the United States reflect many centuries of plant modification through traditional breeding. Genetically modified crops started to become common in the mid-1990s; today, most of the corn, soybeans and cotton in the country have been modified to be resistant to insects or tolerant of herbicide, according to government statistics.
Opponents of GMOs have focused a great deal on the economic and social repercussions of the introduction of lab-modified crops. Greenpeace has warned of the corporate domination of the food supply, saying that small farmers will suffer. A Greenpeace spokesman Wednesday referred a reporter to a Greenpeace publication titled “Twenty Years of Failure: Why GM crops have failed to deliver on their promises.”
This debate between mainstream scientists and environmental activists isn’t new, and there is little reason to suspect that the letter signed by the Nobel laureates will persuade GMO opponents to stand down.
But Columbia University’s Martin Chalfie, who shared the 2008 Nobel in chemistry for research on green fluorescent protein, said he thinks laureates can be influential on the GMO issue.
“Is there something special about Nobel laureates? I’m not so sure we’re any more special than other scientists who have looked at the evidence involved, but we have considerably more visibility because of the prize. I think that this behooves us, that when we feel that science is not being listened to, that we speak out.”
Roberts said he has worked on previous campaigns that sought to leverage the influence of Nobel laureates. In 2012, for example, he organized a campaign to persuade Chinese authorities to release from house arrest the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Roberts said he decided to take on the GMO issue after hearing from scientific colleagues their research was being impeded by anti-GMO activism from Greenpeace and other organizations. He said he has no financial interest in GMO research.
Update: Here is Greenpeace’s response, datelined Manila, June 30, from Wilhelmina Pelegrina, Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia:
“Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice are false. ‘Golden’ rice has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address Vitamin A Deficiency. So to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn’t even exist.
“Corporations are overhyping ‘Golden’ Rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops. This costly experiment has failed to produce results for the last 20 years and diverted attention from methods that already work. Rather than invest in this overpriced public relations exercise, we need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food and eco-agriculture.”
On alternative solutions:
“The only guaranteed solution to fix malnutrition is a diverse healthy diet. Providing people with real food based on ecological agriculture not only addresses malnutrition, but is also a scaleable solution to adapt to climate change. We’ve documented communities across the Philippines that continue to express concerns about using GE golden rice as a solution. It is irresponsible to impose GE golden rice as a quick remedy to people on the front lines and who do not welcome it, particularly when there are safe and effective options already available.
“Greenpeace Philippines is already working with NGO partners and farmers in the Philippines to boost climate resiliency (4). There’s a real chance here for governments and the philanthropic community to support these endeavours by investing in climate-resilient ecological agriculture and empowering farmers to access a balanced and nutritious diet, rather than pouring money down the drain for GE ‘Golden’ rice.”
Letter: Mandatory GMO labeling hurts farms
March 25, 2016 By Newsday readers
Lawmakers who refuse to listen to scare tactics and myths should be praised, not vilified. In a recent letter [“NY needs truth in labeling,” Just Sayin’, Feb. 13], a campaign coordinator for the NY GMO Labeling Coalition calls out five Long Island lawmakers who voted against last year’s proposed GMO labeling legislation.
Assembly members Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), David McDonough (R-Bellmore), Tom McKevitt (R-Merrick), Al Graf (R-Holbrook) and Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head) voted against legislation that would mandate GMO labeling in our state in their respective committees.
These individuals deserve our praise for their courage and leadership to not succumb to the mob mentality and to stand up for sound science.
Mandatory GMO labeling in New York will do little to inform consumers and has the potential to harm individual small farms, many of which are on Long Island.
Genetic engineering of seeds has been a breakthrough for the farming industry here and across the world. Crops that were once at risk for drought, insects and our changing climate now thrive.
These crops are the same as traditionally grown crops in every way.
There’s little debate over the success of the dairy industry in New York state and the life it has breathed into some of our most rural communities. My family has been farming and producing dairy products here for nearly 40 years.
We take pride in not only our products but also the impact the industry as a whole has had on our local and state economies. We understand that our customers, whether friends and neighbors or people a dozen states away, rely on us to produce quality products at reasonable prices.
What I don’t understand is how people with little knowledge of how the farming industry works are so confident that mandatory labeling of products containing GMOs won’t impact my business. In a recent letter, (“Require labeling of GMO contents,” Feb. 18), the author claims the proposed legislation in New York “will not restrict the meat and dairy industries.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Every step of the process to bring our dairy products to market will be impacted.
We grow our own crops to feed our cattle to produce our milk. The more crops we can grow – with less water, maintenance and pesticides – means the more milk we produce. The ability to grow crops more easily has surged in part because of advances in technology like genetically engineered seeds.
Labeling of GMOs is designed to cast a doubt on the safety of these products. Consumers have been incorrectly lead to believe that products produced with the help of genetic engineering are inferior, when they are safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO or organic products.
Our elected officials need to rebuff these attempts to disparage our products and vote against unnecessary labels that will negatively impact our industry and further confuse and mislead consumers.
Dutch Hollow Farm
GMO label demands come at a high price
To eat, or not eat, GMO foods. That is the question, easy to ask but difficult to answer. At least the answer is not so easy for me, but not so for Mark Dunlea who wrote on GMOs in his Dec. 6 commentary. He says no, no, no, due to “credible concerns for health risks,” “serious environmental risks” and the “control of our food supply.” His remedy is mandatory labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients, so that those sharing his and other concerns can reject the products.
The limitation with his comment is that the issues are not nearly so straightforward as implied. Over the nearly 20 years since GMO ingredients have been in our food supply, there is no credible evidence of a health risk. “Evidence” such as giant tumors in rats fed GMOs has been rejected by serious scientists, because the rats used were specifically bred to grow tumors. And grow tumors they do, GMOs or not.
Environment? Well, one major form of GMO crop produces its own pesticide, Bt, a favorite of organic farmers and harmful only to caterpillars. Bt GMO use in cotton has reduced the use of conventional pesticides — known toxins — by 37 percent worldwide, and is responsible for a resurgence of production in India with 95 percent of cotton growers using GMO varieties. So much for Dunlea’s claim that “sustainable farmers in developing third world countries strongly oppose GMO crops.”
And a second GMO technology, herbicide-tolerance, allows farmers to forgo plowing, reducing soil erosion and fuel use. Farmers plant GMO crops because they are profitable and simplify management, not because use is somehow dictated.
The mandatory GMO labeling issue, though, is the current policy concern for New York. Two years ago I wrote a report (see http://publications.dyson.cornell.edu/docs/LabelingNY.pdf ) projecting that mandatory labeling here would cost a family of four $500 annually (mid value). Dunlea denounces that and other studies when claiming true costs will be “less than a penny a day.” His rejection of my estimate is incorrect, in part because I do not base it on “many moving to an all-organic diet.”
In fact I estimate that, post-GMO labeling, 10 percent of prepared foods will be organic, about what it is now. The real costs are incurred when some customers demand non-GMO ingredients while others do not change. That will require food companies to duplicate tens of thousands of products — a huge cost, as about 50 percent of supermarket food items will be affected.
It is disingenuous for Dunlea to imply the only cost to mandatory labeling will be the cents for changing a few words on the label. He and other GMO-doubters clearly believe consumers should switch to non-GMO products, and mandatory labeling will facilitate a switch. That, however, will raise costs far more than the claimed pennies.
Another approach is for voluntary labeling, presently available and used on such products as Cheerios.
Voluntary labeling provides the information requested by some shoppers, but they pay the costs, not all consumers, including those who do not change, as will happen under mandatory labeling.
William Lesser is the Susan E. Lynch Professor in Science and Business at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in Ithaca.
Spit out this food labeling bill
Genetically modified organisms: Nothing to fear
The proposed state law to require labeling of foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should carry a disclaimer of its own:
“Warning: This legislation will not actually provide consumers with useful information.”
What it will do is pander to technophobia about “frankenfoods” that too often gets in the way of smart decision-making.
Much the same impulse scares otherwise intelligent parents away from vaccinating their children, leading to a resurgence of diseases that should be completely preventable.
Putting a focus on GMOs would also distract consumers from factors that really matter when it comes to shopping for food — such as avoiding too much saturated fat and sugar. The debilitating and deadly effects of those ingredients have been well documented by research — while just the opposite is true of GMOs.
Here’s what the nation’s largest general science organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, had to say when California considered a labeling law in 2012:
“The science is quite clear: Crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”
Also weighing in was the American Medical Association: “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class.”
A 2011 report from the European Union — covering 130 research projects over 25 years — concluded that GMOs “are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.”
Here’s what fearmongers fail to understand: Humans have been manipulating the genomes of plants and animals since literally the dawn of civilization — through cross-breeding that has produced modern varieties of wheat, corn, soybeans, etc., that look and taste nothing like their ancient forebears.
The modern technological leap is to directly transplant genetic material from one species to another — often with highly useful results. It’s not fundamentally different from the techniques used to create life-saving vaccines and cutting-edge medicines. Among the crops engineered are varieties of corn carrying a bacteria gene that produces a natural insecticide. It’s nontoxic to humans and other mammals, yet allows farmers to dramatically reduce or eliminate spraying for bugs.
Food engineers have also come up with a type of rice that’s high in beta carotene — which could help prevent Vitamin A deficiencies that blind and kill hundreds of thousands of children a year.
Before going on the market, these products are subject to review by not just the Food and Drug Administration, but also the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply,” says the AAAS.
They’re also ubiquitous — accounting for some 90% of all field corn and soybeans grown in the U.S., according to Margaret Smith, a plant breeding and genetics professor at Cornell University. Meaning that if GMO labels becomes mandatory in New York, they’ll go on the vast majority of boxes and cans on grocery shelves.
And, as Smith points out, the process of extracting corn starch, corn syrup and soybean oil strips out any and all genes and genetic byproducts: “So there’s no way to test a corn starch, for example, and tell whether it came from a genetically engineered corn or not.”
So the breakfast cereal made with ingredients that started as GMOs — which would be required to carry a label — would be chemically indistinguishable from competing products that do not.
Also, bug-resistant sweet corn raised with reduced spraying would have to be labeled, while non-GMO fruits and vegetables thoroughly doused in chemicals would not. Makes no sense.
The bottom-line rallying call of labeling supporters is that consumers have a right to know.
“It’s just information — and information is what people say they want,” says the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan.
But nothing now prevents GMO-free products from advertising that fact, as the makers of Cheerios have started doing. And consumers who care can always look for the “certified organic” label — which already rules out GMOs, for better or worse.
With polls showing that 92% of Americans support labeling laws, supporters like Rosenthal think they’re giving the people what they want. But they should not kid themselves: They are serving up nothing but empty calories.
Lawmakers need to learn more about GMO’s before passing a law that would mandate unnecessary labeling
If there is one thing we know about GMOs, it’s that we don’t know enough about GMOs. By we, we mean consumers and lawmakers.
If we’re to believe the producers of genetically modified organisms — primarily genetically engineered seeds and the things that grow from them — GMOs are the salvation of an ever-multiplying human race. Today, most of the corn and soybeans grown in this country are GMO. Engineering can allow greater yields, and resistance to pests and pesticides.
If we’re to believe the critics of GMOs, they pose a grave threat to human health. They also threaten our food supply as it is increasingly dominated by companies determined to exercise rigid control and secrecy over their patented products.
City Council action based on inaccurate information
Government serves many purposes, but voting against science and the future of agriculture should not be one.
The Plattsburgh City Common Council recently unanimously approved a resolution encouraging city departments and residents to make the city free of GMOs and pesticides (Press-Republican, Aug. 12).
They contend that GMOs and pesticides harm the food supply and that humans suffer serious health issues because of their use.
Yet study after study refutes the council’s concerns regarding GMOs and potential deleterious effects on the environment, food safety and human health.
The City Council is particularly concerned that GMOs, the commonly used herbicide glyphosate, and the insecticide class neonicotinoids (commonly called “neonics) are causing colony collapse disorder and loss of honey bees.
If true, this would be devastating because honey bees serve an important role as pollinators of food crops.
In fact, the preponderance of carefully conducted research concludes that neither GMOs, glyphosate or neonics impact bee colony health.
A primary reference cited by the City Council is work conducted by a Harvard University researcher with no formal training in entomology, whose work has been widely discredited by experts.
Just this spring, research conducted by national experts at the USDA Bee Research Laboratory concluded that chronic exposure of bees to neonics at doses that would be realistically encountered in the field had negligible effects on their health.
Fight GMO labelling
By Assemblyman Bill Nojay
In a recent op-ed for this paper, my colleague Assemblyman Jeffery Dinowitz touted the work of the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee for passing a bill that would force the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients, known as GMOs.
As a member of the committee, I voted against this bill because it is not in the best interests of New York’s consumers. The anti-GMO movement contends GMO foods must be identified because “consumers have the right to know,” or they are somehow dangerous, despite over 1,000 independent studies in the U.S. and Europe saying there is no harm at all and that they are nutritionally identical to non-GMO foods.
The Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly ruled that there is no need to label foods with GMO ingredients. Organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have studied the issue, deemed GMO foods completely safe and concluded that no health benefits would result from mandatory labeling.
Aside from not being needed, this legislation could be detrimental to New York’s family farms and the environment. Modern foods using genetically modified ingredients are “green.” Genetic engineering of crops means our farmers can save money while growing healthier foods for consumers, using less water, reducing pesticide and herbicide use, and even reducing carbon emissions.
Requiring labeling of GMO products will also cost New York families when they shop at the supermarket. The proposed legislation would require up to half of all food items sold in New York State to receive the new labeling. According to a study completed last year at Cornell University, if mandatory labeling were to become law in New York, the cost of food for a family of four would increase by an average of $500 annually. That’s like an additional tax of $500 on every family in New York State.
The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud. Labeling them will not make you safer.
Is genetically engineered food dangerous? Many people seem to think it is. In the past five years, companies have submitted more than 27,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, which certifies goods that are free of genetically modified organisms. Last year, sales of such products nearly tripled. Whole Foods will soon require labels on all GMOs in its stores. Abbott, the company that makes Similac baby formula, has created a non-GMO version to give parents “peace of mind.” Trader Joe’s has sworn off GMOs. So has Chipotle.
Some environmentalists and public interest groups want to go further. Hundreds of organizations, including Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Center for Food Safety, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are demanding “mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Since 2013, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed laws to require GMO labels. Massachusetts could be next.
Despite myriad assurances from scientists that foods containing genetically modified ingredients are safe to eat, consumers are likely to see more and more products labeled “G.M.O.-free” in the not-too-distant future. As happened with the explosion of gluten-free products, food companies are quick to cash in on what they believe consumers want regardless of whether it is scientifically justified.
Responding to consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s, in foods, as well as individual company and state actions on G.M.O. labeling, the Department of Agriculture last month announced a voluntary certification program that food companies would pay for to have their products labeled G.M.O.-free.
By the end of the month, Abbott, the maker of Similac Advance, began selling a G.M.O.-free version of the nation’s leading commercial baby formula (it already has such a product, sold as Similac Organic) to give consumers “peace of mind”.
Last year, Vermont passed a law requiring the labeling of foods that contain G.M.O.s (Connecticut and Maine have labeling laws that will go into effect only when surrounding states also pass them). And Whole Foods Market, with 410 stores in 42 states, Canada and Britain, announced that it would require all foods they sell with G.M.O.s to be so labeled by 2018.
G.M.O. labeling is already required in 64 countries, including those of the European Union; Russia; Japan; China; Australia; Brazil; and a number of countries in Africa, where despite rampant food scarcity and malnutrition, American exports that could save millions of lives have been rejected because the crops contained G.M.O.s.
However, a review of the pros and cons of G.M.O.s strongly suggests that the issue reflects a poor public understanding of the science behind them, along with a rebellion against the dominance of food and agricultural conglomerates. The anti-G.M.O. movement, I’m afraid, risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What is needed is a dispassionate look at what G.M.O.s mean and their actual and potential good, not just a fear of harmful possibilities.
Let’s start with the facts. Humans have been genetically modifying food and feed plants and animals for millenniums, until recently only by repeatedly crossing existing ones with relatives that have more desirable characteristics. It can take many years, even decades, to achieve a commercially viable product this way because unwanted traits can come in the resulting hybrids. While it may be nice to have a tomato that can withstand long-distance travel, the fruit also has to ripen evenly and, most important, taste good.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Mohammed Rahman doesn’t know it yet, but his small farm in central Bangladesh is globally significant. Mr. Rahman, a smallholder farmer in Krishnapur, about 60 miles northwest of the capital, Dhaka, grows eggplant on his meager acre of waterlogged land.
As we squatted in the muddy field, examining the lush green foliage and shiny purple fruits, he explained how, for the first time this season, he had been able to stop using pesticides. This was thanks to a new pest-resistant variety of eggplant supplied by the government-run Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute.
Despite a recent hailstorm, the weather had been kind, and the new crop flourished. Productivity nearly doubled. Mr. Rahman had already harvested the small plot 10 times, he said, and sold the brinjal (eggplant’s name in the region) labeled “insecticide free” at a small premium in the local market. Now, with increased profits, he looked forward to being able to lift his family further out of poverty. I could see why this was so urgent: Half a dozen shirtless kids gathered around, clamoring for attention. They all looked stunted by malnutrition.
In a rational world, Mr. Rahman would be receiving support from all sides. He is improving the environment and tackling poverty. Yet the visit was rushed, and my escorts from the research institute were nervous about permitting me to speak with him at all.
The new variety had been subjected to incendiary coverage in the local press, and campaign groups based in Dhaka were suing to have the pest-resistant eggplant banned. Activists had visited some of the fields and tried to pressure the farmers to uproot their crops. Our guides from the institute warned that there was a continuing threat of violence — and they were clearly keen to leave.
Why was there such controversy? Because Mr. Rahman’s pest-resistant eggplant was produced using genetic modification. A gene transferred from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (more commonly known by the abbreviation “Bt”), produces a protein that kills the Fruit and Shoot Borer, a species of moth whose larvae feed on the eggplant, without the need for pesticide sprays. (The protein is entirely nontoxic to other insects and indeed humans.)
Calling G.M.O.’s ‘Unnatural’ Suggests They Are Unhealthy
The push to define natural food has involved lawsuits about many different aspects of what’s in our food, including high-fructose corn syrup, additives, chemicals and G.M.O.’s. But these issues are not equal, and categorizing G.M.O.’s in particular as unnatural would wrongly suggest that they are unhealthy.
Nearly every respected scientific association — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Association and American Society of Plant Biologists — has attested to the safety of G.M.O. crops for one simple reason: scientific evidence indicates that the consumption of genetically modified crops is not harmful or nutritionally inferior.
All crop varieties are genetically altered compared to the wild plants from which they have been bred.
Panelists tout GMO benefits
Public awareness about bio-engineering is creating concern, confusion and fear, when such technology produces higher crop yields and helps the environment by reducing the need for pesticides.
That’s what speakers said Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Northeast Agribusiness & Feed Alliance, at Albany Marriott.
Consumers should evaluate genetically-modified foods individually before adopting a zero-tolerance policy against them, said Sarah Evanega, a Cornell University adjunct professor.
“Not all GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are created equal,” she said. “You have to evaluate these product lines on a case by case basis. An important place to start is: how much do people know? how decided are they? It’s important to reach people who aren’t actually decided on it.”
The program was entitled: “The GMO Challenge to our Feed and Food Systems.”
Monsanto, a leading producer of GMO-manufactured seed, was a primary sponsor along with APEX (Agricultural Products Extension LLC), a research and investing information firm.
The locally-grown food movement is still gaining momentum, as people want to know where their food comes from and how it’s raised.
However, modifying crops with modern technology doesn’t necessarily make them unsafe, Evanega said.
For example, disease-resistant vegetables reduce the need for insecticides. Increased crop yield is especially important in developing nations, whose poor residents need food most, she said.
“We need to work together to make sure that farmers around the world have access to modern science,” she said.
Kate Hall, managing director for the Council for Biotechnology Information, said the food and agricultural industries must take steps to counter unwarranted negative publicity about GMOs.
“Those who are oppose GMOs have been incredibly effective at spreading their message,” she said. “We have quite a bit of catch-up to do now. Our job is to make sure farmers can continue to access these tools.”
Hall said biotechnology allows farms to grow more food on less land with less tillage, which reduces emissions from farm equipment and keeps carbon in the soil, instead of being released into the atmosphere.
Poorest have most to gain from GMOs, hurt most by GMO scare-mongering
The Grocery Manufacturers Association brought a lawsuit in response to Vermont becoming the first state to require GMO labeling regardless of laws passed in other states. According to GMA, the Vermont law is a “costly and misguided measure.” The concern is that, to the uniformed shopper, these labels might be perceived as warnings, adding to the continued stigmatization of GMO products.
Such stigmatization disproportionately hurts the poor, who happen to have the most to gain from GMOs. Around the world, scientists have found solutions to many ailments through the application of biotechnology. In Southeast Asia, where an enormous vitamin-A deficiency has often resulted in vision impairment, scientists created the “Golden Rice” which contains the much-needed vitamin. But because of misconceptions about GMOs, the product is still being withheld. And there are plenty of other beneficial projects involving bioengineered foods that are suffering this same fate due to an unproven fear. The truth is that cross-breeding different foods is a perfectly natural process that humans have practiced throughout history. Science is only making it better.
Food labeling bill could cost Port of Albany manufacturer money, customers
Vermont is on the verge of becoming the first state to require labels on genetically modified foods.
A similar bill is approaching a vote in the New York State Assembly.
The bill has gained popularity in Albany, New York and among consumers, but it will likely create complications for food producers.
Alex Allen, who manages a flour mill on the Hudson River, said the passing of a labeling law for genetically modified foods would hurt his business. In industry lingo, genetically modified food is known as GMO.
“One of the biggest challenges of being a manufacturer, especially in the food industry, is complying with changing perceptions of customers,” Allen said. “People are driven by perceptions. They are scared of random foods everyday whether it has to do with GMOs, gluten or carbs.”
Horizon Milling ships 2 million pounds of flour out of the Port of Albany per day. Horizon Milling is a subsidiary of Cargill, the global food producer and marketer in the agricultural, financial and industrial sectors.
Horizon Milling receives shipments of wheat by boat, truck and rail, which it processes into flour.
Today, there is no requirement for food producers to label genetically modified foods. The proposed legislation in Albany, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), would require food producers to label genetically modified foods to consumers.
Americans overwhelmingly support the labeling of genetically modified foods. A 2013 New York Times poll shows 93 percent of respondents favor labeling.
Allen says it would be impossible to ensure that the wheat Horizon Milling is using to make flour isn’t coming into contact with other genetically modified foods.
“Who’s to know whether there was genetically modified corn in the rail car before the wheat we use to make flour was transported from the field to our plant,” Allen said. “There’s no way you can test for GMOs. They are invisible. How are you going to label a phantom?”
Foods are genetically modified to maintain size or to produce their own pesticides. There is no research proving that GMO foods pose health risks, but health concerns are the main force behind the bills in both New York and Vermont.
GMO labeling is required in more than 64 countries, including China and Japan. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than two dozen states are considering GMO labeling bills.
State GMO labeling would be costing to N.Y. consumers
Legislation is pending before the state Legislature to require GMO labeling on all food products. Sound reasonable? Maybe, but not as proposed.
First, what is GMO? Genetically Modified Organisms are plants enhanced by biotechnology to produce higher yields and be grown using fewer fertilizers and pesticides.
As grocers, we believe that consumers should have access to consistent, accurate and relevant information about the food products they buy. Our goal is to offer consumers the widest variety of products at the lowest possible prices. This can only be done under a uniform, national system of labeling.
Federal labelling standards are set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is our belief that consumers are best served if these agencies adopt a single, national labeling standard for GMO and non-GMO food products. State-specific labeling will lead to higher food costs and product unavailability. Let me give you some examples.
Supermarkets are restocked from multistate warehouses. If New York requires GMO labeling that is different from the rest of the country, then food warehouses will have to double-slot items: One slot for New York and another for the rest of the country. There is not enough space in any warehouse in the country to double-slot all the food items a typical supermarket carries.
The problem will be compounded if other states adopt different labelling bills. Will warehouses have to triple- or quadruple-slot items? What products will stores no longer be able to carry? What will this do to consumer prices? The need for a national standard is clear.
Genetically modified food is just the latest chapter in 10,000 years of high-tech agriculture
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced commercially for agriculture in the United States in the mid 1990s, and they have been adopted by most farmers here. Nevertheless, anti-GMO activists and entrepreneurs have called for labeling of foods made from GMOs or for their outright ban. Among the numerous reasons for opposition is that GMOs are products of science, not nature, and therefore they pose health risks. However, agriculture is by definition the manipulation of nature to meet the desired ends of people.
GMOs are made by inserting a foreign gene into a plant or animal with the goal of conferring properties that have some agricultural benefit. At present, only GM plants have entered our food supply. In the United States, commonly used GM corn and soybean varieties contain a bacterial gene that confers resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, marketed under the brand name Roundup. Roundup kills weeds but not the GM crop. Other GM corn, soybean and cotton varieties produce a bacterial protein called Cry with insecticide activity that lessens the need for application of toxic chemicals that pollute the soil and groundwater.
The creation of GMOs is indeed sophisticated, but in fact agriculture is a high-tech revolution in progress that began 10,000 years ago.
To put GMOs in perspective, that beautiful organically grown heirloom tomato is a biologically distorted, genetically engineered product of human innovation derived from a small, hard, poisonous fruit created by nature. Virtually everything in your garden is the result of many hundreds of years of genetic tinkering through breeding, resulting in organisms that bear little resemblance to the native species, and which would not exist without human intervention.
WSYR-TV in Syracuse reports on why GMO labeling will cost you more at the checkout
Cornell Study shows that consumers will be spending hundreds of dollars more on food if GMO bill is passed into law
Rick Zimmerman of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance and Michael Rosen from the Food Industry
NY Farm Bureau’s Jeff Williams explains why GMO labeling proposals are bad for NY’s farmers, retailers, food producers and consumers.
Utica area farmer Vincent Jones explains why farmers from across New York are opposed to mandatory GMO labeling
GMO Labeling will undermine trust
Friday, March 14, 2014 by Jeff Williams
Getting food to the plates of New Yorkers and those beyond our borders is the work and passion of the members. From those who produce the highest quality seeds, to those who nurture the seeds into food and feed products, to those who feed and care for animals that provide everything from meat to yogurt, our organizations represent the diverse spectrum of the agriculture industry in New York state.
Nearly a quarter of the land in our state is used for agriculture. Our industries employ tens of thousands of New Yorkers and bring in billions of dollars in revenue and taxes. There is nothing more important to us as an industry than the public’s trust and understanding.
That is why we feel strongly the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms will undermine that trust and cause confusion and a negative financial impact for the farmers, producers and consumers.
This coalition submitted a memo opposing S-3835A and A-3525A, legislation mandating labeling of food derived from genetically engineered crops.
Labeling food can hurt farmers with increased production and distribution costs.
In addition to increased costs, food companies could reduce the number of products available for purchase. This would be especially detrimental to people in rural and urban settings where availability and cost is already an issue. Labeling could further impact these marketplaces with higher costs and fewer products.
Modifying seeds has gone on for thousands of years. Our members take pride in producing the best products. Mandatory labeling will harm our industry and threaten the bottom line of farmers, producers and consumers across New York.
In the bowl, GMO free Cherrios idential to current crop
Margaret Smith is a professor of plant breeding and genetics who leads a Cornell University program to help farmers and the public understand plant breeding and genetic engineering. She says the recent move by General Mills to eliminate genetically modified organisms from its Cheerios cereal might please GMO-shy consumers, but it won’t alter the iconic cereal’s make up one bit.
“Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA (which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism) and no protein (which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism). Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.
“This means that the new version of Cheerios that is being made without use of genetically engineered varieties will be nutritionally and chemically identical to the previous version. So it will not offer anything new to consumers – other than to give them the option to buy a product that does not support planting more acres to genetically engineered crop varieties.”
Why labeling genetically engineered food?
But there is no reliable evidence that genetically modified foods now on the market pose any risk to consumers.
The Food and Drug Administration says it has no basis for concluding that foods developed by bioengineering techniques present different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. Nevertheless, bills are pending in several states to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients (a referendum to compel such labeling was narrowly defeated in California last November). For now, there seems little reason to make labeling compulsory.
Consumers can already find products free of genetically engineered ingredients, with labels voluntarily placed by the manufacturers.
CONSUMER PROTECTION COMMITTEE FAILS CONSUMERS WITH
PASSAGE OF GMO LABELING BILL
A.617/S.485 will cost New Yorkers more and hurt critical industries
Despite loud objections from farmers, scientists, and food producers and distributors, today, the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection voted (9 to 6 with one abstention) to pass a bill that would force mandatory labeling on foods derived from genetically modified crops (GMOs) in New York.
Every step of the food production and distribution process will be affected by this legislation, and the added costs of producing, warehousing and distributing products with a single state label will be passed on to the consumer.
Consumers already have a choice in the marketplace if they do not want to purchase GMO foods—by purchasing organic products. By adding a GMO label, products could be construed as unsafe or of a lesser value, due to the incorrect information that has been widely distributed by labeling proponents.
“This action isn’t about providing consumer choice. It’s about vilifying a technology that has proven to be more environmentally responsible and will help feed people in parts of the world who face malnutrition. It’s about raising the cost of food for low-income families whose only choice will be to pay more or eat less. It’s government involvement in a free market system where companies are already voluntarily labeling thousands of products themselves,” said Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau’s public policy director.
Food costs will rise for New York families if this legislation is passed into law. A study released last year by the Dyson School for Applied Economics at Cornell University found that a family of four would see their food bill rise by an average of $500 per year with a labeling mandate.
“Why would New York lawmakers force residents to pay more for a labeling initiative that does nothing to inform consumers, works against the agricultural industries in our state, and will cost the state millions to implement?” said Rick Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Northeast Feed and Agribusiness Alliance.
“As Assemblyman Bill Nojay noted, this bill amounts to a $500 tax on families in New York.”
Individual state labeling initiatives will create a patchwork of policies that food producers will have to navigate in order to get their products on store shelves. Some may choose to not do business in a state with an individual labeling law.
“Food labeling needs to be done at the federal level. State specific labeling will only lead to higher food prices and reduced opportunities to bring sale items into New York,” said Michael Rosen, President and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State.
Overwhelming scientific evidence has proven that foods produced with genetic engineering are nutritionally equivalent to those produced with conventional methods and pose no health risk. Well respected organizations from around the world and here in the U.S. have said repeatedly that there is no need to label GM foods. Those organizations include the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration.
GMO labeling initiatives are anti-science and send the wrong message to the scientific community.
“New York State has worked for years to build a robust bioscience industry. Passing legislation like this undermines that effort and reflects fear and misunderstanding rather than good science.” Said Nathan Tinker, PhD., Executive Director of New York BIO.
The bill now goes on to the Assembly Codes Committee for further consideration. The opponents of this proposed legislation will continue to call on lawmakers to reject this measure.
Mandatory GMO labeling will increase costs for all New Yorkers
(Albany, N.Y.) Researchers from Cornell University this week confirmed what the food industry has long suspected mandatory labeling of foods with GMO ingredients will cost consumers more at the checkout line.
In a study released Monday, Professor Bill Lesser of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University outlined the added costs that the industry will pass down to consumers if forced labeling becomes the law in New York. The average family of four would be forced to shoulder an average of $500 in additional food costs each year and could be as high as $800 per year. Additionally, the state of New York could be facing millions of dollars in added costs to implement and monitor a labeling initiative.
“The bottom line is that food costs will increase dramatically as a result of this mandatory labeling bill,” said Rick Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance. “This new study from Cornell illustrates how this legislation, if passed would directly impact those least able to afford it.”
Forced labeling would impact virtually every aspect of the food production industry from seed to store shelf. Additional costs levied on farmers and producers, warehousing and distribution centers and inventory management would all contribute to added costs to consumers.
Coalition: Ny Bill Mandating GMO Labeling Is Bad For Consumers, Farmers And Retailers
Lawmakers today voted to advance a bill that requires the labeling of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a move that a coalition of farmers, agribusiness leaders, scientists and retailers say could have serious effects on all aspects of the food production and distribution industries across New York.
The bill was passed by the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee and coalition members from across the state are urging lawmakers to vote down further action on the legislation.
Hundreds of studies have proven that genetically modified foods are as safe as foods that have not been genetically engineered. These studies have been cited by some of the most well known and most respected organizations in the country, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Putting a label on these products has the potential to mislead consumers about the safety of these products.
“Consumers currently have thousands of choices at the supermarket to buy food that does not contain any biotechnology products. No matter their choices, science has overwhelmingly proven there is no difference in the safety and nutritional values of crops that use genetic engineering. New York can’t afford to institute a costlier food labeling system for consumers, farmers and food distributors alike when there is no need”, said Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau Public Policy Director.
Added distribution and production costs would ultimately result in higher prices for consumers. Recent research indicates that food costs will increase by $450 – $520 per year for a family of four.
“This effort to cast perfectly safe products in a negative light is being done by a small group of individuals who are not taking into consideration the impact that this legislation will have on those who are unable to shoulder higher costs in the checkout line”, said Rick Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance.
“This elitist issue is originating in affluent communities with no regard for individuals who would be directly affected by increased food costs and decreased product availability.”
State by state labeling of genetically modified foods could create a patchwork of regulations that the food industry would struggle to accommodate and could be disruptive to the industryÂ¹s ability to get certain products to store shelves.
“State specific labeling makes no sense. We need a preserve the national uniform system of food labeling so retailers can continue to offer the widest selection of consumer goods at the lowest possible price”, said Michael Rosen, President and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State.
Members of the coalition include the following organizations:
Empire State Coalition of Agricultural Organizations
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