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My view: Grass isn’t greener on that side, Rep. Greene

By Grace Boatwright

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 21 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Republican Rep. Brian Greene of Pleasant Grove is on a mission to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Citing a “huge and growing concern” about GMOs and the “right to know,” Rep. Greene argues such a measure is not only necessary, but compliant with the principles of limited government.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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Republican Rep. Brian Greene of Pleasant Grove is on a mission to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Citing a “huge and growing concern” about GMOs and the “right to know,” Rep. Greene argues such a measure is not only necessary, but compliant with the principles of limited government.

But the question remains — are growing concerns justified, and moreover, does the current labeling system already satisfy one’s right to know?

According to Dr. Leslie Sieburth, a plant geneticist at the University of Utah, consumers should not be concerned because humans have always altered their food through selective breeding and other mechanisms. But don’t take it from her; every independent scientific body and government agency worldwide — including the American Medical Association, The National Academy of Sciences, The French Academy of Science, The European Commission and the World Health Organization — have declared GMOs safe for consumption.

Perhaps this explains why, according to a new report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, more than 18 million farmers across 27 countries grew GM crops in 2013, cultivating more than 175 million hectares (432,434,415 acres), a 3 percent increase from last year.

So why not label foods containing these trusted ingredients?

First, the option already exists. As Frontiers of Freedom President George Landrith recently noted, labeling advocates far more rigid than Rep. Greene have “already paved the way for labeling measures that inform consumers and ensure [organic] labeling standards are clear and enforced.” If a product is organic, it is inherently free of GMOs. If it is not organic, there is 70 percent likelihood it contains GMOs. The math seems rather simple.

Second, labeling GMOs stokes unjustified fears in consumers, leading grocery shoppers to question foods that do not merit questioning — at least not in terms of safety. This is particularly concerning, given the still sluggish economy and the gaping divide in price points between organic and traditional foods.

Third, patchwork state measures are wasteful, duplicitous and nonsensical in an increasingly global marketplace not overwhelmingly demanding labeling. Rep. Greene argues that more than 90 percent of Americans are concerned about GMOs. However, as documented in a recent USA Today article, that number is drastically different depending on how it is asked. If open-ended, only 7 percent of Americans demand GMO labeling. If among a list, the number is 57 percent. Thus, should a label be enacted, it must be done so on the federal level to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.

Brigham Young once said, “True independence and freedom can only exist in doing what’s right.” Rather than succumb to the calculated misinformation campaign of anti-science, anti-biotechnology radicals, Rep. Greene would be better suited to do his homework regarding GMOs. In doing so, he would learn that they are perfectly safe and that pursuing a state-based label is not only pursuant with big government, it is counterproductive in educating the public.

As an elected official, Rep. Greene is uniquely positioned to educate the public on the power of biotechnology — from reducing pesticide use to feeding an increasingly growing global population — not wasting taxpayer resources pursing a bill headed nowhere fast. Let’s hope Rep. Greene reconsiders his actions and instead seeks to do what is right and educate Utahns on the benefits of GMOs. Because as Brigham Young also said, “education is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world's work, and the power to appreciate life.”

Grace Boatright is legislative director of the National Grange, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, fraternal organization that advocates for rural America and agriculture.

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