Let's Get Real About GMO Labeling

Prairie Gleanings

Before banging the GMO labeling drum, let's try to understand how this sort of thing would play out. I think a lot of folks are confused.

Published on: June 4, 2013

A Rebuttal to the Monsanto Protestors garnered a lot of attention.

The GMO haters turned out en masse to tell me why I was an idiot (and a few other things I can't print here) on this topic.

One thing came through crystal clear – nearly all of them want GMO labels for our food supply. Another thing was clear – very few of them understand how food makes its way from the farm to the fork.

I’ll start by addressing the farm to fork information gap that seems to exist. Many of these GMO protestors seem to think GMO labeling will hurt the biotech corporations. I doubt it. Here’s why.

Look at this long list of ingredients in a bag of Doritos. Do you really think Frito-Lay will spend the money to make certified non-GMO Doritos?
Look at this long list of ingredients in a bag of Doritos. Do you really think Frito-Lay will spend the money to make certified non-GMO Doritos?

These biotech companies spend millions on R&D to insert new traits into seed. The seed is then sold to farmers. Contrary to what many non-GMO folks seem to think, the farmer chooses what seed to purchase. And, yes, he/she can choose non-GMO seed.

Before moving onto the next step, let’s address why a farmer would choose GMO seed. To farm is to gamble. The odds are more in a farmer’s favor if he/she plants GMO seed. Yield reductions due to insects, disease, weather and weed competition are very real threats.

Growing non-GMO crops is typically harder. If one were to choose this route, they should fully expect a premium for doing so. Keep this mind; we’ll come back to it later.

If Frito-Lay did spend the money to manufacture non-GMO Doritos, how much would you pay for them? Ill bet youd be looking at a cost of at least $10 per bag.
If Frito-Lay did spend the money to manufacture non-GMO Doritos, how much would you pay for them? I'll bet you'd be looking at a cost of at least $10 per bag.

Now, the crop is planted, it grows, matures and is harvested. The farmer trucks the corn, soybeans, wheat to the local elevator (a place where grain is stored). It is mixed with numerous other farmers’ crops from the same area. From here, it probably goes to a larger elevator, and is mixed again.

Next, the elevator sells the commodities to various end users. In some cases, that’s a feed mill, which grinds commodities and produces rations for cattle, hogs, chickens, etc. In others, it goes to companies that make food additives. These folks then pass the additives on to food manufacturers.

Point is we do not directly consume the corn and soybeans that are stored in the silos which dot the Midwestern landscape. They are processed in some manner before coming to our dinner table.

When they do land on our table, they’re in a familiar packaging, with a brand on said package. Folks, the food manufacturers are the ones who do not want to slap a GMO label on their products.

And, should you begin to think the farmers and biotech companies are in bed with the grocery manufacturers, think back a few years to the debacle over ethanol production. The Grocery Manufacturers Association launched a vicious food vs. fuel campaign that the farm industry did not appreciate in the least bit.

Knowing this, let’s refine our position on GMO labeling a bit, shall we? If you purchase a 12-pack of Pepsi/Coke, and it comes with a new “May contain GMO products” label, will you lash out at Monsanto? Or, perhaps you’ll purchase a different type of soda?

I know what you’re thinking. “Ah, but if I buy a different soda, Pepsi will get the message and they’ll stop buying GMO high-fructose corn syrup, so eventually it will trickle down to Monsanto.” Are you sure about that?

Consider this tidbit from the U.S. Soybean Export Council. The EU put GMO labeling into place in 2004. Food companies scrambled to find non-GMO products to avoid the label.

This year, the cost of non-GMO commodities reached a point where virtually all the UK’s large poultry producers are now buying GMO products. British supermarket Tesco ended its 11-year commitment to non-GMO poultry because they could no longer source it in an economic fashion.

So, what about forcing farmers to plant non-GMO seed? First off, aren’t a lot of you mad because you think Monsanto is doing just the opposite right now?

That point aside, doing so will reduce the amount of grain/food. Less food means more money for the remaining amount food. Yes, this isn’t just a feeding the world debate. It’s a feeding the U.S. debate.

Viewed through that lens, which politicians do you think will want to pass a law that takes food out of people’s mouths? Last time I checked, everyone, regardless of economic stature, gets a vote in this country.

This brings me to my final point. Remember the bit about non-GMO food coming at a premium? U.S. citizens are already voting on this issue. They’re doing it with their pocket books.

It’s tempting to get all hopped up at an anti-GMO rally and think you’re in the majority, but you’re not. For every one of you willing to paint a sign, there are countless others silently purchasing cost-effective, safe food at their local grocery store.

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  1. Dear Josh says:

    This is how this thing DOES play out when you label GMO's. Monsanto abandons the whole of Europe because of no demand. http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20130602-700834.html

  2. Madeleine Love says:

    This article is misleading on many grounds – here are just a couple: The assumption that the farmer “can choose non-GMO seed” is contrary to information coming out from US farmers, viz the youtube “GM crops farmer to farmer”. A study just out found that seed choice has increased in non-GM countries of Europe, but has declined in Spain where GM has been adopted (both GM and non-GM varieties). “Farmer's choice of seeds in four EU countries under different levels of GM crop adoption” In Australia there is choice of receival point so non-GM can be segrated from GM. This allows food producers to choose which grain to use, in the situation of labelling where consumers are able to choose, US farmers, may, like Australian farmers, receive a premium for non-GM crops. Adoption of GM canola has been very low in Australia because it doesn’t bring returns. The ‘cheapness’ of food in the US needs to be examined in the light of very high subsidies for soy and corn… what consumers don’t pay at the supermarket, they pay through tax. Consumers aren’t voting “with their pocket books” to buy the GM food on the supermarket shelf, in the absence of full GM labelling, and seventeen years of a dumbed down media.

    • Madeleine Love says:

      Corrections: re "out found" - swap words Put a full stop after "which grain to use". Sigh

  3. The Professor says:

    This article is a mess of assumptions, made up numbers, and juvenile logic. Econ 101: Food manufacturers will make and sell anything that turns a profit. If that is non-GMO food products they can charge more for, they will do it with a smile, and it’s no different with farmers and what they grow. It’s called free market capitalism, which most functions most efficiently with informed consumers. GMO labeling is the only way to differentiate the products so that consumer demand will allow the market to work correctly. Who knows, the markets may determine there isn’t enough money in non-GMO products to warrant their production. However, we both know that isn’t the case and is the sole reason GMO producers are fighting GMO labeling with all their resources. The only party that stands to lose by labeling is the producers of the GMO seeds, because they know a large amount of their market share will disappear overnight. I seek out many things that are of higher quality and more expensive for various reasons. Made is the USA chief among them because it supports American workers, will last longer, and isn’t produced with sweatshop labor. That is my choice as an informed consumer. Imagine if there was no way for me to tell if my Redwing boots were made in China or Minnesota, think there would still be a market for their boot? The answer is, of course, no and they too would be forced to the lowest common denominator to compete. The point is, just because you may think it’s silly not to pay the least amount possible for a shoe (or food), it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have the ability to make an informed choice for myself.

    • Josh Flint of www.farmprogress.com says:

      You make some good points. I especially like this: "Who knows, the markets may determine there isn’t enough money in non-GMO products to warrant their production." But, I disagree that paying more always nets you a better product. And, I don't think GMO seed companies would lose market share overnight. To grow non-GMO, a grower needs a sizeable premium. If that's not offered by the end user, they'll continue to grow whatever yields the best.

      • The Professor says:

        1) I never said pay more always nets you a better product. Thats called a strawman argument. 2) By virtue of the undisputed fact that there is a vocal group of consumers pursing GMO labeling so that they don’t have to buy it, I don’t see how you can argue that GMO’s market share won't eventually decline by requiring GMO labeling. Its pretty linear logic. 3) Your last statement is correct seeing how that is supply/demand. However, the organic/free range/antibotic & hormone free products clearly demonstrates that consumers will support a premium for real food - and that is why Monsanto and their trade groups so vigerously oppose it. That is also why this article is so painfully wrong.

  4. Confused says:

    So people are already voting with their pocket book by purchasing non-GMO foods, even though there is no way to know what is GMO, because there is no label? Pretty sure you can't use the sole purpose of GMO labeling as a point of argument against it.

    • Josh Flint of www.farmprogress.com says:

      I see what you're saying. But, I think the vast majority of consumers purchase certain foods because of taste and price. I don't think a GMO label will change those purchasing habits. Many non-GMO proponents fail to understand that most consumers (myself included) inherently believe the U.S. food supply is the safest in the world.

      • Confused says:

        So writing for a trade publication, for which you are paid, requires nothing more than writing articles telling the poor confused masses “how this thing would play out” based on nothing more than personal opinions that don’t require any actual facts to support them? Sweet job, bro. Where do I apply – I wanna talk out my ass and get paid!

      • Josh Flint of www.farmprogress.com says:

        You're right, I am projecting my personal beliefs in a believable manner. That's kind of the whole point of a blog. This is not a peer-reviewed scientific study. Blogs align more closely with op/ed than objective news.

      • Confused says:

        You project a lot of your personal beliefs as facts and relevant counterpoints to proponents of GMO labels. They are neither.

  5. Phillip Swartz says:

    Josh, frankly I'm appalled that you would publish what appears to be a very hastily written, off the cuff blog post. Please don't give the haters more ammunition with sloppy grammar and fabricated numbers - do some research, interview some industry insiders about the true cost of labeling. Honestly, I can't understand why everyone at Prairie Farmer is getting themselves so worked up in opposition to labeling. GMO crops are a great product with many benefits for farmers and consumers. Everyone from the seed reps to corporate funded trade publications tell me how great biotech crops are and that I should plant them on every acre. As a producer I want to see my transgenic crops marketed to end consumers with the the same enthusiasm those products are marketed to me. When I go to the grocery store I want to see every last item branded with a logo proudly declaring "MADE WITH GMO GRAIN". This would allow everyone to know that these products contain grain with superior genetics. I think it's high time y'all embrace labeling as a marketing tool that will increase consumer awareness and demand for our fine products.

    • Josh Flint of www.farmprogress.com says:

      I definitely wouldn't have a problem buying food labeled as containing GMOs. The point of the blog was to point out where the main roadblocks exist. I think many folks don't understand the path food takes to get to their dinner table.

      • Midwest farmer says:

        And all of these people are complaing with full stomachs. I wonder what a little hunger/food shortage would do?