A resolution to support mandatory labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms was voted down by a narrow margin Monday at the Long Island Farm Bureau’s annual members meeting.
The measure, which was proposed verbally from the floor toward the end of the meeting, was voted down 14-13.
Karen Rivara, the organization’s newly elected president, said she believed the resolution failed in part because it didn’t go through the usual process most resolutions do. A draft is normally submitted at the organization’s August meeting. All resolutions are then sent out in the group’s newsletter for members to read up on before the vote.
“I remember more discussion last year,” said Rivara, who supported the resolution.
The same resolution was approved last year, and voluntary labeling was supported in years past. The issue is one that’s been playing out nationally for the past six years or so. Joe Gergela, LIFB’s executive director, said it’s a complex issue with a lot of technical knowledge necessary to truly understand it. Gergela said the New York Farm Bureau’s current position does not regard GMOs negatively, although consumer suspicion is mounting and may force farmers to rethink their position.
“We look at it as helping to feed the world and not as a risk,” he said.
Gergela said he was surprised that more people at the meeting didn’t vote against the resolution.
“I guess some farmers are going with the organic farmers’ position,” he said.
The New York Farm Bureau currently supports voluntary labeling and is discussing mandatory labeling. Bureau chapters from across New York vote on such matters and send their resolutions to Albany, where a democratic process determines policy.
The debate centers on whether food producers are to be mandated to label products containing crops that have had genes artificially spliced into them. Wary of scaring consumers, many producers oppose mandatory labeling. Gergela said GMO’s have advantages most people don’t hear about, with Roundup-ready crops needing less pesticides. He said some farmers think requiring labeling is simply too costly.
Calverton resident and farmer Rex Farr, an LIFB member, supports the most stringent regulations concerning GMOs. He called labeling “the most important issue” facing farmers and food consumers. Farr said use of GMO’s, which he testified against with Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle in 1998 and 1999, is indicative of the loss of trust and respect for food production society has undergone in recent decades.
“It’s a symptom of how we treat food,” he said.
Meg McGrath, a vegetable pathology researcher with Cornell Cooperative Extension, said Roundup-ready crops enable production with reduced tillage, which leaves soil with more nutrients. She said the public’s perceptions about GMO’s and health risks are often based on fear rather than science.
“What the issue comes down to is that labeling is insinuating something is wrong with it, and I think there’s a lot of people that react,” she said, adding that no known health risks have been definitively linked to genetically engineered crops.
Crops like Roundup-ready corn contain Bt toxins that kill insects that eat them. While seed companies like Monsanto are required to perform extensive studies on effects on environment and human health before their GMO seeds can be approved for use, increasing consumer awareness is making that use more controversial.
And Gergela, who abstains from votes and represents the bureau’s official positions, said the market is becoming more consumer-driven than ever before.
“People want to know where their food’s coming from,” he said.
This story is free to read thanks in part to the generous support of readers like you. Keep local news free. Become a member today.