Assaults on modern agriculture

Assaults on modern agriculture

Rejecting scientific advancements in agriculture may be in fashion, but this fad poses great dangers to the affordability and accessibility of food domestically and worldwide.

In three weeks, the second-smallest state by population is set to create chaos in the U.S. food supply chain. Vermont’s mandatory labeling law for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) takes effect on July 1, with Maine and Connecticut planning to follow suit.

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If states move forward with their own labeling laws using varying standards and definitions, this legal patchwork will force farmers to implement costly new procedures and equipment. Retailers will have to alter ingredients and distribution chains or face financial penalties. 

These costs will ultimately be passed on to consumers, with the biggest burdens falling to those who can afford them least. 

As our global population grows, we should be celebrating producers’ ability to make safe, affordable foods available to more people while preserving our finite resources. Laws such as Vermont’s seek to vilify the very technology making these advancements possible.

With biotechnology, producers can increase yields using less land, less water and fewer chemicals. The American Farm Bureau Federation reports today’s farmers produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer resources compared to 1950. 

This is not only good for the environment, it also lowers the cost of food at a time when 1 in 8 people worldwide suffers from chronic malnutrition. By 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations projects the global demand for food to increase by as much as 60 percent. 

Not only are biotechnology crops necessary to feed the world, study after study also reaffirms their safety. On May 17, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a lengthy report based on 20 years of data, finding “no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops.”

Scientists can even develop biotechnology crops containing more nutrients than their non-modified counterparts. 

“By inserting genes into crops such as rice and wheat, we can increase their food value,” the FAO says. These advancements are crucial to fighting malnutrition in developing countries.

In addition to human health, the National Academies’ report found no evidence of GMOs causing harm to the environment. In fact, a 2014 study by researchers at Germany’s Goettingen University found a 37 percent reduction in chemical pesticide use in agriculture due to the rise of biotechnology.

With science on the side of GMOs, Vermont’s law is being sold as a boon for consumer choice. But the marketplace already incentivizes organic manufacturers to label their products, allowing consumers to discern which foods contain ingredients produced through biotechnology and make informed decisions about purchases. 

To provide certainty for producers and consumers, we passed legislation in the House of Representatives that would establish uniform national standards for voluntary labeling. But action is needed from both houses of Congress before one state’s mandatory labeling law disrupts food production for the entire country and beyond. 

We must also empower producers to communicate more actively with consumers, giving them a better understanding of where their food comes from — and who provides it.

In Congress I represent Nebraska’s 3rd District, the top-producing agriculture district in the country. Anne, a central Nebraska cattle feed yard owner, recently contacted me about her desire to give people a window into the operation she runs with her husband, Matt, and their three children. 

“It’s important to Matt and I that we are judicious users of resources on our farm,” Anne says. The couple repurposes the manure from their cattle and the water runoff from their land to decrease the farm’s environmental impact. 

They also know the quality of their products depends on raising healthy animals, and they regularly consult with a ruminant nutritionist and a veterinarian to provide unique care to up to 3,000 cattle. “We try to set our animals up so they can behave naturally. That limits the stress on them and allows them to stay as healthy as possible,” Anne explains. 

It comes down to shared priorities. As Anne concludes, “We all care about our families, the environment, and where our food comes from.”

Stories like this are common in Nebraska agriculture and across the country. I encourage more farmers and ranchers to share their practices to help consumers make informed decisions. 

America’s producers can meet growing global demand for agriculture products, but only if we replace fads and fearmongering with science-based policies that support their efforts to provide high-quality, safe and affordable food. 

Smith has represented Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007. He is the founder and co-chairman of the Modern Agriculture Caucus.