By: Bob Meyer
While the GMO-labeling bill recently passed by the Vermont State Legislature excludes milk and dairy products, GMO labeling is still on the minds of those in the dairy industry and was the topic of a panel discussion at the American Dairy Products Institute/American Butter Institute Annual Conference last week.
National Milk Producers Federation vice president Chris Galen moderated the panel, he says while farmers benefit from the use of GMOs, we need to show what consumers get out of it. Galen cites the battle over the approval of rBST twenty years ago as an example of how the consumers were just not sold on the benefit to them.
Panelist Peter Janzen, general counsel and chief administrative officer for Land O’Lakes says consumer education is the key and the focus needs to shift from the GMO benefit for farmers to the GMO benefit for consumers. He noted for example if genetic engineering could deliver allergy-free peanuts or gluten-free wheat, it would swing consumer opinion.
Steve Rowe with Northwest Dairy Association said lots of studies show the safety and benefits of GMOs but they do not balance the powerful emotional claim that people have the right to know what is in their food.
Tres Bailey with Walmart says his customers want safe, affordable and sustainable food and they increasingly ask for more transparency.
Galen says while efforts like the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance are on the right track, producers need to do more talking to consumers. He says given the tools of communication available to us now through the internet, Facebook, Twitter and cell phones, we should be able to get the word out.
He says the dairy industry would like to see Congress pass a federal law which lays-out uniform standards for voluntary labeling. “For most people, as long as they have assurances that the foods are safe, which certainly GMO foods are, then that really is the beginning and the end of the discussion.”
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