Farmers in California and elsewhere generally feel they are appreciated and supported by the rest of us. The November ballot measure on genetically modified organisms (GMO) may prove them right — or wrong.
The measure is undeniably anti-farmer, requiring that food products that incorporate or rely on GMOs must be labeled to indicate that. Sounds innocent enough, but the labeling is an enormous and costly undertaking that probably turns people away from the labeled products. The issue’s backers claim that labeling merely provides information consumers want.
Identifying the backers as vegans and panic-stricken food fadists, the farm community points out that a vast majority of the food products on grocery shelves already include some ingredients or products that incorporate GMOs.
Farmers resent and scientifically refute the vegan position that something about GMOs is inherently unhealthy, detrimental or evil. By contrast, they are proud of the research that has brought GMOs into the plant-breeding and production process, enabling enormous increases in the production of healthy food products.
So the farm community is gearing up to defeat the initiative and in the process convince consumers the food they’ve been eating for decades is truly wholesome, nutritious and satisfying. It promises to be a challenging project.
The editor of one of the state’s leading agricultural publications says it will require the attitude and tenacity of a junkyard dog to make agriculture’s case. That translates to “mean,” a character trait not usually ascribed to farmers, but they can be tenacious and focused once they are riled.
Accompanying the editor’s comments in the July 21 issue of Western Farm Press is a column by Richard Cornett, communications director of the Western Plant Health Association. He wonders what the public has against the scientific progress represented by GMOs, “especially when it comes to feeding a burgeoning world at affordable prices.”
He said: “Just as you think you’ve lived long enough to have heard it all, along comes another silly campaign endorsed and supported by environmental coalitions, organic-only consumers and at least one questionable donor who want to add yet more words to already long and cluttered ingredient labels now on store shelves that the majority of us don’t read anyway.”
Cornett stresses the extreme nature of the initiative by pointing out it prevents foods from being labeled “natural” if they have been processed in any way, even though they contain no biotech ingredients. “That includes foods that have been dried, roasted, smoked, pressed, cooked, fermented, milled, frozen or canned,” he wrote.
He concludes that passage of the initiative might cost an average family hundreds of dollars per year in higher food prices. He identifies the promoters of the proposition as “a group of uninformed fellow citizens and self-interest groups who are against modern-day farming technology for apparently no good reason.”
If that doesn’t set the stage for you, expect to hear a great deal more from other agricultural spokesmen, farmers, responsible scientists and researchers in the months ahead. And the anti-GMO promoters of the proposition probably will be noisy as well.
You can bet California farmers — and this is an initiative restricted to California products — prefer to express an attitude more typical of a golden retriever, labradoodle or an affectionate lap dog. But when their basic products are being maliciously attacked, they can bare their teeth, ready to take a bite out of whoever threatens them.
Can’t you see it now, all over the state, signs along farmhouse driveways warning in big, bold letters, “Beware of farmer?” G-r-r-r!
Don Curlee operates his own public relations firm specializing in agriculture issues. His column appears in The Sentinel every Thursday. Email Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.