GMO labeling initiatives beginning to appear in southern legislatures

A hodge-podge of state laws, some requiring warnings at the top of labels on foods containing biotech crops; some requiring warnings with skull and crossbones on the sides of labels; others with warnings in fine print at the bottom.

That’s a nightmare scenario for food processing companies, most of who don’t know or care whether the corn, cotton or soybeans they purchase are genetically modified or not. (And those, despite what activists say, are the only GMO crops that currently enter the food chain.)

Until now, the southeastern states have generally been immune from activist attempts to force state and local governments to require such labels. But Bucky Kennedy, state affairs director for the Southern Crop Production Association, says those efforts are beginning to occur in some locales.

“We’ve seen an increase in the GMO labeling initiatives around the southeastern states that SCPA covers,” said Kennedy, who was interviewed at the group’s annual meeting in New Orleans. “In the 15 states we have, eight of them had some sort of effort for mandatory labeling of GMO products this year.”

Most of those states remain ag friendly, he says, “but we have a lot of new urban legislators who come in with information from folks who don’t have an ag background and want to do something that’s helpful for their side. But they also don’t understand the unintended consequences that this piece of legislation may have on the ag community.”

Kennedy said organizations like the Southern Crop Production Association are not opposed to labeling of GMO products.

“Our concern is with mandatory labeling,” he said. “We’re in favor of voluntary labeling or letting the market dictate what should be listed. We’re also supporting the federal labeling that’s being pushed.

A federal law would be far preferable to 50 different pieces of state legislation that might evolve, Kennedy noted.

Florida seems to be leading the way on this “patchwork” approach in the Southeast. The four cities and counties at the southeastern corner of the state have passed local ordinance resolutions encouraging the mandatory labeling of GMOs.

“That gets kind of dicey when you have a local county rule that’s opposed to a state regulation when the local people don’t have as much knowledge or experience with the regulation or storage or handling of such products as the state would,” Kennedy noted.

“Florida is a key state for us. Maryland is a key state. Being that close to Washington, D.C., they’re closely tied to activist groups inside the Beltway. The surprising one was here in Louisiana where we had some legislation introduced.”

In that case, SCPA and state regulatory officials were able to meet with the legislator and share some information about the other side of the issue, and the legislation was withdrawn.”

Kennedy said farmers can help counter such efforts by presenting the other side of the issue when the opportunity arises.

“Don’t be afraid to talk about the benefits, talk about how it’s improved your yields, allowed you to make less trips across the field with pesticides and be a sound steward of the land. People want to know where the food comes from and being able to associate a farmer’s face with these products is a good thing.”

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