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Safe, proven biotechnology deserves non-stigmatizing national labeling standard

Global hunger is one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century and the problem will only get worse if the U.S. Senate fails to take action and prevent a costly state-by-state patchwork of labeling mandates for food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In a Senate Agriculture Committee mark-up last week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) correctly noted that “science is an essential piece of the puzzle in addressing food insecurity.” The senator also praised the legacy of my grandfather, Dr. Norman Borlaug, a University of Minnesota graduate who helped spark the green revolution in agricultural technology that is credited with saving more than 1 billion people from dying of hunger.

{mosads}I am glad to see my grandfather’s work praised. And, as an associate director for the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, I want to see his work, and the work of his fellow agricultural scientists, protected. That means ensuring that innovations in agricultural biotechnology aren’t sent to the dustbin of history, leaving future generations asking why good solutions were abandoned. 

It really comes down to a simple label. In July, Vermont is set to become the first state to begin enforcing a GMO labeling mandate. The impacts will be felt on store shelves and in science labs around this country. Make no mistake – these state labeling efforts are not about a so-called ‘right to know’ but are about enabling activists to drive GMOs out of the marketplace. Leaders in the labeling movement acknowledge this, with one saying “If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it.”

These dangerous efforts undermine the critical importance of biotechnology and the role it plays in feeding the world. With the help of modern science and GMOs, farmers now have the ability to produce crops that better withstand droughts and require fewer pesticides. They can adapt genetic codes to acclimate to new environments, and ensure that crops grow well despite inhospitable climates.

You cannot be anti-hunger and be anti-GMO. GMOs not only make farming more sustainable, they directly impact national and global food security at a time when warming temperatures and rising populations mean that those living in poverty will face increasingly unstable supplies of food.

The safety of GMOs is as clear as their benefits. Every major scientific organization that has examined this issue has concluded that they are safe as any other food. Those denying their safety are denying the science.

By allowing state-mandated on package labeling of GMO foods, Congress would be turning its back on decades of advancements in biotechnology and allowing a small group of activists to deny millions of people the tools that will prevent starvation and death. We cannot allow that to happen.

Senator Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has put forward a bipartisan proposal that would establish national standards for food made with genetically-engineered ingredients. The Biotech Labeling Solutions Act would prevent a costly state-by-state patchwork of labeling mandates. It would also help ensure that providing greater information could go hand-in-hand with providing greater education at a national level about the safety and importance of GMO crops. The Senate Agriculture Committee supported moving his bill to the full Senate by a 14-6 bipartisan vote.

Now, we need senators of both parties to come together to support this common-sense approach.

Sixteen years ago, my grandfather wrote that the world would soon have the agricultural technologies available to feed the 8.3 billion people anticipated in the next quarter of a century.  The more pertinent question is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use these technologies.

The members of the Senate will decide that very question in their votes on the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act. For the sake of science and the world, the answer needs to be yes.

Borlaug is associate director for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University and granddaughter of Nobel Peace prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Pat Roberts

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