For the past several months, thousands of stakeholders in the American food chain—literally farm to fork—have struggled against misinformation, junk science, and parochial state laws to guide a workable GMO labeling law through Congress. Representing Ohio’s beverage industry, I was one of those thousands working in a national coalition of passionate advocates. My Ohio-based colleagues, new and old, never failed to impress and humble me. Here are some highlights from our struggle to move past fear to a rational way forward.
OHIO FARMERS BRING IT
Our diverse Ohio Food Coalition spanned the farm to fork gamut with Ohio farmers, commodity groups and Ohio based food businesses. I loved the passion of our farmers (beef, dairy, sheep, poultry, pork, soybean, corn, and wheat, fruits and vegetables, etc.) when they pushed against false claims about bioengineering of crops. Since Ohio is a huge agricultural state, our farmers already help feed the world and will continue to do so through innovative crop science and animal management practices. As they explained (over and over), our expanding world population will depend upon more efficient ways to grow food with fewer resources like water and land. These conversations were invaluable in securing farm-state member support and leadership.
BATTLING CELEB U CHEFS
There were more rock stars in our coalition. The Ohio Agribusiness Association and their member companies provided factual well-articulated counterpoints to increasingly hysterical junk science. On the larger stage in DC, this patient education undertaken by many experts in GMO technology finally won the day—even over Tom Colicchio and other “celeb u chefs” dishing up reckless claims about bioengineered ingredients. While entrenched views on bioengineered foods remain, we began to turn the conversation away from fear of the unknown towards ways to better inform consumers about all product information.
Finally, my tribe—Ohio businesses making tasty food and beverages—educated Ohio’s Congressional delegation on the hardships of allowing a patchwork of 50 different state GMO labeling laws. Ohio superstars like the Smucker’s Company, Spangler Candy and many more detailed how manufacturing works, how all of our companies adhere to strict FDA food code safety standards, including labeling, and how Vermont’s parochial labeling law would cost Ohio businesses millions of dollars to comply with what amounts to a “skull and crossbones” warning label on products which contain genetically modified ingredients. When production managers and CEO’s broke down the numbers, legislators listened and got to work on compromise legislation. Conversations turned to practical matters—how to make information on GMO ingredients available in a consistent, responsible way.
CONGRESS DELIVERS (NOT A TYPO)
The result of our national farm to fork coalition was a rare bi-partisan vote in the U.S. Congress to create a national, uniform labeling system for GMO food ingredients. This agreement will provide transparency, consumer information via digital means or on-pack labeling and prevent a patchwork of state laws that would raise food prices and disrupt food distribution. There were lots of heroes in this effort from all 50 states but our Ohio food coalition certainly stands tall among them.