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Guest Opinions

GE Crops

Written by Robin Groose

To the Editor:

Wyoming agricultural producers welcome genetically engineered (GE) crops.  We all enjoy the economic and environmental benefits of GE crops.  We grow GE alfalfa, sugarbeets and corn.  Soon, more Wyoming crops will be GE.

In the upcoming session of the Wyoming Legislature, a resolution, HJ0001, “Labeling for genetically engineered items,” is sponsored by the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee.

This is a resolution “requesting Congress to enact legislation reaffirming the United States Food and Drug Administration as the primary authority in uniform food labeling related to genetic engineering.”

You can find HJ0001 at the Wyoming Legislature Service Office website, wyoleg.gov.

Should food from GE crops be labeled as such?  I say no. The truth is that all crops are genetically modified in many ways and often using technology much less precise than GE.

HJ0001 is simply a resolution.  It has no power of law.  Yes, HJ0001 is well-intentioned.  But it must not be passed because it will make Wyoming look ignorant, stupid, or both. The anti-GMO crowd will jump all over the HJ0001 errors, inconsistencies and bad grammar.

HJ0001 states that it has to do with “labeling for genetically engineered items.”  But really, HJ0001 is about “food” or “crops” or “plants,” not “items.”  HJ0001 should have nothing to do with GE pharmaceuticals or industrial products.

HJ0001 is “requesting Congress to enact legislation reaffirming the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the primary authority in uniform food labeling related to genetic engineering.”

But there is nothing to “reaffirm.”  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has nothing to do with GE labeling and never did.

The rationale for a resolution is built into its “Whereas” statements.  Let us consider the 11 “Whereas” statements in order.

Whereas 1: This refers to a “biogenetic organism.” This is a term that no agriculturist or biologist would ever use in this context.

Whereas 2: This Whereas does not go far enough.  It does not say that that GE plants are probably “safer than safe.” GE is so much more precise than classical plant breeding.

Whereas 3: The phrase “genetically engineered technology” is grammatically incorrect. The “technology” is not “genetically engineered.” Plants are. Otherwise, this is a fine Whereas.

Whereas 4: We’ve been growing GE crops for 20, not 25, years.  The first GE crops were grown in 1996.  It was a bit later that GE crops first appeared in Wyoming.  Since 1996, nearly 5 billion acre-years of GE crops have been grown world-wide, with excellent results, and excellent results in Wyoming.

Whereas 5: Okay. So much of our food comes from GE plants directly consumed by human beings or indirectly via livestock that consume GE feed.

Whereas 6: Excellent!  This is the core of HJ0001.  A “patchwork of state and local mandatory labeling laws” would be a disaster for both American producers and consumers.

Whereas 7: Regarding a “national solution,” it already exists in the U.S. Constitution. The “Commerce Clause” is found in Article I. The “Supremacy Clause” is found in Article VI. So many agriculture advocates, like me, observe that the several state and local mandatory labeling laws that were recently enacted, but not yet enforced, will be voided as unconstitutional.  Also, note that beyond a “national solution,” we need an “international solution.” It’s no secret that some other nations are using “anti-GMO” laws to impede American exports of food, feed, and seed.

Whereas 8: Here the proposed resolution would “affirm the Food and Drug Administration as the nation’s authority for the use and labeling of genetically modified foods.”

Nonsense! The Wyoming Legislature must not resolve to “affirm” an “authority” that FDA does not have and has never had.  Once FDA has determined safety of a GE plant or any genetically improved plant FDA requires no labeling. Yes, FDA has authority for oversight of labeling of ingredient composition and nutritional content of processed foods. But, no, FDA has no authority regarding labeling of GE content of foods and never did.

It is important to acknowledge that not only FDA has responsibility for determining safety of GE plants in America.  USDA-APHIS and EPA are involved too.

World-wide, we have grown nearly 5 billion acres with overwhelmingly positive results.  GE crops save our soil and reduce our carbon footprint.  Yes, GE biotechnology must be deployed judiciously to avoid evolution of weed, pest and pathogen resistance. We can do that.

Whereas 9: Here HJ0001 proposes that a national solution will require the FDA “to conduct a safety review of all new genetically engineered ingredients before they are introduced into commerce.” But FDA already does this.  And no labeling of safe ingredients is required. Here HJ0001 invites federal overregulation. Why do that?

Whereas 10: Pointless.  Companies are already free to voluntarily label their products as GE or non-GE.

Whereas 11: Bad. Surely, the Wyoming Legislature does not want the FDA to define the word “natural,” do they?

The missing whereas: It is unfair that food labeling laws would disadvantage GE foods and food ingredients when many classical plant breeding and plant biotechnologies are more likely to result in unexpected and undesirable outcomes in terms of human health, economy, and environment.

In the early days of GE, 20 years ago, it was we in the plant genetics, breeding and biotechnology community that insisted on intense scrutiny of newly emergent technologies for crop improvement.  Job done.

Now we know. GE biotechnology is safe. Safer than some traditional technologies for plant genetic improvement. Safer than some other emergent biotechnologies.

Years ago, in 2004, a thorough evaluation of plant genetic improvement by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that GE plant biotechnology is safe.  And safer than many traditional technologies and emergent biotechnologies.Now, 10 years later, as GE biotechnology has become more precise, we must conclude that plant GE technology is “safer than safe.”

Today, GE is heavily overregulated at the federal level. An invitation from Wyoming for even heavier federal regulation makes no sense.

OK. Now let us move on to the four sections that would “Now, therefore, be it resolved by members of the Legislature of the State of Wyoming:

Section 1: “That the Congress of the United States enact bipartisan legislation that reaffirms the Food and Drug Administration as the primary authority in uniform food labeling related to genetic engineering, based on scientific standards regarding health, safety and nutrition.”

But, as I have emphasized, FDA has no authority regarding GE labeling.  Why would Wyoming invite FDA overreach?

Section 2: “That existing Food and Drug Administration labeling rules and guidance, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, provide sufficient standards to address consumer interest in food production practices through the use of truthful and non-misleading voluntary labeling.”

Regarding processed food ingredients and nutrition, FDA has great responsibilities.  But the FDA has no authority to label food regarding genetic modification, whether GE or non-GE, or whether by the vast diversity of classical plant breeding or ultra-modern biotechnologies. Also, FDA has no authority to label food regarding “food production practices.” Moreover, the USDA’s Organic Program is antiquated.

Section 3: “That the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration adopt policies, regulations and rules setting standards to address consumer interest in food production practices through voluntary labeling.”

My question: Is labeling “voluntary” when it must meet FDA “policies, regulations and rules?”

Section 4:  This last section of the HJ0001 would transmit the joint resolution to the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States.

Again, I ask, why would Wyoming invite federal overregulation of proven genetic technology for improvement of our state’s crops?

Sincerely,

Robin W. Groose, PhD

Retired Professor of Genetics, Agroecology and Plant Breeding

Laramie