Wanzek: Genetically modified food is perfectly healthy

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Terry Wanzek, a North Dakota state senator and a wheat, corn and soybean farmer. He is a board member of Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org.

The “heads” side of every quarter pictures a famous farmer: George Washington. Among the 50 states represented on the “tails” side, however, only Vermont shows a farmer: He’s tapping maple trees for syrup.

So it would be a special shame if Vermont’s legislators were to pass a bill that would hurt farmers not just in the Green Mountain State, but across America.

The bill would require all food that possibly contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients to say so on a special label.

If this sounds reasonable on the surface, consider a few details: Just about everything we eat derives in some way from biotechnology (which is a good thing), the public isn’t exactly clamoring for this bill, and supporters of the proposal are driven primarily by greed and cynicism.

Thankfully, the bill is now stuck in a committee and many observers think it will stay there, failing to become a law before the state’s general assembly finishes its work this year. But I’ve spent a fair bit of time around state capitols (I’m both a family farmer and a state senator in North Dakota), and I’ve seen a lot happen in the last days of a session.

So farmers need to keep an eye on what happens in Montpelier.

The fundamental flaw in Vermont’s bill is that nobody needs it. It’s a solution in search of a problem.

Biotechnology is an accepted tool of conventional agriculture. Around the world, farmers have grown more than 3 billion acres of GM crops — that is, plants bred to have a natural resistance to insects and weeds, resulting in a bountiful and sustainable food ingredient.

In the United States, the vast majority of corn and soybeans are genetically enhanced. Farmers are able to grow more food on less land, boosting our national food security and helping us conserve wilderness at the same time. Most Americans eat food derived from biotechnology every day.

Biotechnology is a process. The food it produces is no different nutritionally from other kinds of food. Demanding special labels for GM ingredients makes about as much sense as requiring labels that explain whether crops were harvested by modern machinery or by hand.

Consumers expect their food labels to carry pertinent facts rather than needless and confusing data. As a farmer and consumer, I want them to have that information. As a society, we already suffer from information overload, with documents thrust upon us again and again. When was the last time you read the HIPAA statement at your pharmacy?

But here’s the best reason to question the type of information some argue must be mandated on labels: The special-interest groups behind them aren’t interested in helping out the public. Instead, they want to use government regulations to exploit consumer uncertainties and create a competitive advantage for personal profit. They’d love nothing more than labels that reproduce biohazard symbols on perfectly healthy food.

Many of the biggest backers of rules like the one proposed in Vermont are organic-food groups that think people will flock to their products, which, by the way, are generally more expensive (but not healthier).

Joseph Mercola, a prominent funder of a labeling initiative in California, recently explained his thinking: “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85 percent of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market just the way it was done in Europe.”

As motives go, this one is pretty bad: Use labels to frighten, rather than to inform, people about what they eat and drive them, like cattle, toward different consumer items.

Vermont is a little state with a small population. But its actions will carry national weight, perhaps by encouraging politicians and activists elsewhere to follow its example and forcing food companies to meet a patchwork of inconsistent and unnecessary regulations that drive up the cost of food without increasing our food safety. A real food safety issue, in my mind, would be a lack of food, as a result of eliminating a farmer’s access to the latest technologies that have dramatically enhanced our abilities to safely increase food production.

I hope the lawmakers of Vermont will remember their state quarter — and decide to stand with the men and women around the country who grow the food we depend on.

Comments

  1. timothy k price :

    If promoters of GM foods are objecting to requirements that they have labels, identifying them as such, then I would strongly suggest that all GM food crops and product made from them be banned in Vermont. Genetic materials in plants can be introduced into animals, and that includes humans, simply by eating the plant product. There has been nowhere near enough time for the effects of this to appear in humans, unless you think it might be a contributing factor in obesity, or autism, or allergies, or ATD, the decreasing IQ of the public, and on and on. The natural world has become the dumping ground for humans and their efforts to exploit. Healthy people come from removing all the toxic residues, all the questionable substances that invade us with every breath, with every bite, and sound byte. We need to pay special attention to the quality of where we live.. and what we consume. GMO labels or the road, Jack.

    timothy price
    Fairlee, VT

  2. Hod Palmer, :

    “Supporters of the bill are driven by greed and cynicism,” NOT. People want to know what’s in their food, and that should be a fundamental right.

    And all that “natural resistance to insects and weeds” is now creating super bugs that aren’t resistant. Whre is biotechnology taking us?

  3. Jim Carroll :

    When pesticides start to fail, crops like corn are genetically modified to actually produce its own pesticide. That’s a pesticide that can’t be washed off… And one that will go into our bodies when we eat the corn or the food derived from the corn.

    Please do give us GMO labels. If they’re specific, then we will know when we trust some genetic modifications and not others.

    My source is the _fabulous_ new show America Revealed on PBS. The “Food Machine” episode.

  4. Alex Barnham :

    Trying to make a living by growing plants is risky and takes a great deal of skill and luck…foods that nourish have to have a safety factor that only time will tell…changing the genetic qualities of foods to make them easier to grow may not, in fact, be safe for human consumption unless testing has been done over a long period of time. We need to know that the vegetables we are eating are the same vegetables that we KNOW are safe. Scientists have no idea what the end results of tinkering with the genetic qualities will do to the resulting food unless extensive tests are conducted. We do NOT want to be the guinea pigs. Not labeling may bring down the entire industry if people decide they will not eat ANY foods that are not properly labeled. Any industry must have the complete faith and trust of their consumers to survive.

  5. Al Walskey :

    If genetically modified are so good then producers should welcome labeling to promote sales. So far corporate foods like tomatoes have been designed for high yields and a long shelf life rather than nutritional value. Putting profit over people is why the filler “pink slime” is added to our hamburger. Yum.

    Even healthy foods promoted by the food industry contain ingredients that can cause disease like high blood pressure and diabetes. We deserve the freedom to choose what we put into our bodies. Without labeling that can’t happen.

    Many Vietnam era veterans suffer from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange. Some died. Those with compromised immune systems and allergies are especially vulnerable. Vietnam is a prime example of what can go wrong with herbicides.

    Our bodies are not petri dishes.

  6. Sandra Batchelder :

    Saying foods from GMO sources is healthy is akin to saying Louisiana Entergy (Vt. Yankee) has no underground pipes. We know how that turned out. The fact is bees have died while flying over a field being seeded with GMO corn seed. The seed contains pesticides and most of us probably have no idea what pesticides or substances are in GMO seed.

    Who are the Vermont farmers who stand to be hurt by a GMO labeling bill? Not the fruit and vegetable growers who rely on pollination. If the real safety issue, as Wanzek claims, would be a lack of food, the loss of pollinators is a hugh threat. Sorry, Mr. Wanzek, the public IS clamoring for this bill.

  7. Daniel Barlow :

    I think it’s fine to have an honest discussion about how GMO labeling would either hurt or help small food producers. But to make a statement like this – which flies in the face of facts (The public isn’t clamoring for this? Polls show 90% of people support labeling) is just silly. Rep. Terry Wanzek must represent Bizzaro World over in North Dakota.

  8. Grace Gershuny :

    There are only two statements in this piece that are accurate; one is: “Vermont is a little state with a small population. But its actions will carry national weight…”

    There is more than enough scientifically valid information available to refute every one of the author’s ridiculous claims about GMO foods – except the other accurate statement, that the vast majority of corn and soybeans grown in this country are genetically modified.

    Yes, labeling is the first step to shrinking the market for these products, which were created not to improve the healthfulness of food, protect the environment, or make farming more sustainable – but to make piles of money for the agri-chemical companies like Monsanto.

  9. Jaen Andrews :

    I would like to know who belongs to the organization Truth About Trade & Technology, who funds them and by how much, and with what other organizations TATT and it’s members have affiliations or other sorts of ties.

  10. Kelly Cummings :

    I did a little looking around because I was wondering… just who is this guy? This is “some” of the stuff I found and thought I would put it here for whoever is interested.

    Don’t be surprised if you see Monsanto and ALEC connections pop up.

    Speaking of ALEC….they sure do have their tentacles into just about anything and everything that involves putting big profits first and people last…don’t they?! Imagine that?

    What do ya say we all get together and pull back the curtain? Expose the Goliaths for who and what they are! And stand united against the rabid immorality occurring in this country. Come to the “People’s House” in Montpelier on May 1st at noon and stand together with other Vermonters to say “PUT PEOPLE FIRST!” I believe we have just about “ALL” had more than ENOUGH!

    http://www.shutdownthecorporations.org/?page_id=102

    http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/171/

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Monsanto

    http://www.truthabouttrade.org/about/biographies/

    http://www.truthabouttrade.org/2012/04/12/could-pink-slime-be-rebranded/

    http://www.alternet.org/story/13951/gm_wheat_portends_disaster_for_great_plains/?page=1

    http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstryaad3.html?recid=768

  11. Paula Schramm :

    I agree with Grace Gershuny. She sums up what hit me overwhelmingly about Terry Wanzek’s article : most of his statements are just not true ! Casual readers be warned : all the people who showed up last week to testify at the Statehouse ( several hundred were there ) know more about the process and results of genetically modifying food crops than Mr. Wanzek seems to know.

    Don’t swallow his line about how good this is for farmers; Monsanto is known for strong-arming and coercing through despicable strategies any big soy or corn farmers out in the mid- west who might not want to jump on the GMO bandwagon.

    “Biotechnology is an accepted tool of conventional agriculture. Around the world, farmers have grown more than 3 billion acres of GM crops”. The vast majority of GMO crops are grown in the U.S. and Canada, where the agrochemical giants have had their way with the regulatory agencies, basically through lobbyist in-breeding.
    European and many other countries insist on labeling GMO’s in food, and for the most part do not allow GMO agriculture. Japan is waiting to see what happens to the health of the American population over the years before it allows GMO food to be marketed. We are the world’s guinea pigs, and as long as Monsanto et.al. keep GMO food from being labeled, it will be much more difficult to make connections between our alarming increases in incidence of allergies, autism, anti-biotic resistant pathogens, obesity , etc. and the amount of GMO food in our diet.

    “Demanding special labels for GM ingredients makes about as much sense as requiring labels that explain whether crops were harvested by modern machinery or by hand.” This is a truly ridiculous statement, and shows that Mr. Wanzek is probably more interested in covering up any relevant discussion than in truly debating the issues. There has been enough study to show that the process of genetically altering the DNA of a plant leads to many unintended consequences, which may be “good” or “bad”, but certainly are not all predictable. It is a process, as author Jeffery M. Smith names his latest book, of “genetic roulette”. I urge Mr. Wanzek and anyone else hungering for more information on this topic, to read his books.

  12. Steve Merrill :

    We remember the last time Vt.’s “Farmers” rounded up “supporters” in buses to Montpelier for the GMO seed bill and wonder where they got the money, well, partially from US as taxpayers. See the “subsidy” list at http://farm.ewg.org/top_recips.php?fips=50000&progcode=dairy&regionname=Vermont. These so-called “farmers” (think “industry”)pollute our rivers and lakes, the air with formaldehyde from “foot-baths”, hire illegal slave labor, and are complicit in procuring prostitutes which is a violation of federal laws against human trafficking. These mega-dairies are ruining the land, water, and air all to produce a product that in all probability causes heart disease, diabetes, and other numerous health problems, so why should we subsidize them with our tax dollars, much less “listen” to them at all? They have zero credibility and people are starting to awaken to the links between food and overall health. No other mammal drinks it’s mothers milk once it’s been weaned and eats solid food, so why do we? SM, North Troy, Vt.

  13. walter moses :

    This is akin to the labeling of the hormones in milk to increase production. As i understand it took one processor from Maine who labeled his product “hormone free” and said , “to hell with you, so sue me. I owe so much now all you will get is debt”. That took care of the USDA and others who were against labeling.Kelly Cummings is right. All food should be labeled. Wanzak has his big ax to grind for his own profit. Lame, lame ,lame.

  14. Teo Zagar :

    As a member of the House Ag Committee I’m glad to see that many others have responded to the multitude of fallacies in this op-ed. I hope the mouthpieces of the biotech industry keep regurgitating these same old lines because they are becoming much easier to repudiate with the mounting scientific, anecdotal and historical evidence that is accruing globally regarding the true consequences of both the genetic manipulation and corporate monopolization of the food supply.

    I could fill pages with evidence we’ve heard in testimony that refutes many of Wanzek’s claims, but I’ll just focus on the title of the op-ed itself: If GMO food is “perfectly healthy”, please prove it. I probably ate some for lunch.

  15. Jim Candon :

    So does this mean that there would now be two food labels on food? One would list what’s in the food; the second what’s not in the food?

  16. Paula Schramm :

    In response to Jim Candon question :” So does this mean that there would now be two food labels on food? One would list what’s in the food; the second what’s not in the food?”

    If GMO ingredients are labeled, that saves everyone a lot of trouble. The only reason to put what’s NOT in the food, i.e. ” rBST FREE ” on a label is because including these kinds of foods on a label has been blocked. The food producer then has no other option to a “what’s NOT in the food” type label if they want consumers to be able to make an informed choice.

    Maybe I’m only saying the obvious, but Jim Candon seemed to have some confusion.

  17. Lisa Prow :

    The only point I’m willing to concede is this is not the fight we should be fighting. Ideally, Monsanto wouldn’t have been able to sue every small farmer and seed processor for patent infriengemet for doing nothing more than keeping their own seed, something they have done for years. Monsanto isn’t fighting clean, they are fighting dirty and shutting people down.

    On top of Monsanto being able to sue people for stealing their patents when the genes float over to the next field, the government keeps approving more GE in the face of people’s opposition. Heck, they want to add fish to the mix, and you know something like fish will get free and start mixing with wild populations. Pollen from crops migrates over where it isn’t wanted, of course an animal will.

    If GMO was labeled to begin with and priced with the market I bet some people would choose to buy it. What, that food with the GMO corn is 10-25% cheaper than the non GMO? Sure, let me load up! By not being transparent people assume you have something bad to hide. If you are trying to hide it, why is that? It must be something that is bad for us or you would reveal it.

    What is so hard to uinderstand that honesty and transparency promote trust and hiding does not. If your argumetns are so true you have nothing to hide.

    Anyway, weeds and insects are becoming resistant to the pesticides in the GM crops. The main benefits are becoming worthless anyway.

  18. This is called “truth”? “the public isn’t exactly clamoring for this bill, and supporters of the proposal are driven primarily by greed and cynicism.”

    Why are we reading a biased, insulting opinion piece from a state senator in North Dakota and aboard member of “Truth about Trade and Technology”? I’d rather hear from VT farmers who are committed to providing local, healthy food to those of us who actually live and eat here.

    It sounds to me like the senator is the one being driven by greed and cynicism.

  19. Susan Campoccio :

    Unbelievable! this writer must be a shill for the biotech industry….there is enough evidence out there to merit labeling…and this person and people like him, and some with pockets full of Monsanto money are running the gov’t, The people want our food labeled. We have a right to know if we are eating Roundup molecules… or fish mixed with eels, and so on…. Government, you are supposed to be protecting the people, and you are not…. shameful, deceitful…

  20. Susan Campoccio :

    And North Dakota: recall this fool…

  21. Alex Barnham :

    Not a peep out of Terry Wanzek…strangely silent amid the protests so I guess he has gone back to North Dakota with his tail tucked graciously between his legs.

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