By: Jim Gerritsen 

American Farmers Support Right to Know GMO Labeling

I am a seed potato farmer in Northern Maine and I strongly support GMO Labeling.  Last year, I helped Maine citizens in their successful effort to pass our country’s second-in-the-nation GMO Labeling law in Maine.

I am a member of both Maine Farm Bureau and New England Farmers Union.  My family has been farming in Aroostook County, Maine, for 38 years.

Monsanto and their allies vigorously opposed our citizen effort in Maine.  They used fear-mongering and invented lies and distortions about what would happen if GMO (genetically modified organisms) labeling became law.  Their lies were not believed in Maine.

Now I understand these same powerful opponents to GMO labeling are spending many millions of dollars in Oregon/Colorado in an effort to fool citizens with the same disinformation campaign they invented in Maine.  Don’t believe them.   They do not have Oregon’s/Colorado’s best interests at heart.

The language of our legislation in Maine is similar to that of your referendum in Oregon/Colorado.  The language behind our common GMO labeling concepts is modeled after existing law in Europe and elsewhere.

The so-called “exemptions” which Monsanto “objects to” are in fact merely distinctions necessary in order to clarify legal intent.  For example, milk produced by cows which may consume GMO feed would not be covered by GMO labeling because the cow itself is NOT a GM organism.  However, if GMO Salmon were ever to be approved, that salmon would have to be labeled because it is an organism which has been genetically modified.

The single fact most abundantly clear in the GMO labeling debate is the unprecedented and nearly unanimous support of American citizens who favor the right to know if they are eating food containing GMOs.

I would like to add one more critical fact to this discussion:  American farmers – just like their non-farmer counterparts – fully support the consumer’s right to know about GMO foodRight to know labeling provides honesty and basic transparency.  It does not offer a value judgment as to whether GMOs are good or bad.  Farmers understand that transparency is vital for a strong economy and a successful democracy.  GMO Labeling will inform and allow the free market to operate, enabling citizens to make responsible purchasing decisions.

Last year the Aroostook County Farm Bureau Board of Directors endorsed Maine’s GMO Labeling bill, LD718.  Farmers are smart and they understood that LD718 was a consumer right to know bill aimed at labeling processed food and that it had virtually no impact on farmers.   Subsequent to the Board vote, at the annual meeting of the Aroostook County Farm Bureau, members voted unanimously to ratify the decision of their board to endorse LD718.  Furthermore, these Aroostook County farmers directed their leadership to support endorsement of LD 718 at the Maine State Farm Bureau Annual Meeting one year ago.  There, after vigorous debate a vote was cast by delegates who represented farmers from the entire state of Maine.  The delegates voted overwhelmingly to endorse LD718.

Maine Farm Bureau wasn’t the only farmer organization supporting GMO labeling.  Other well respected Maine farm organizations also understood GMO labeling offers reasonable transparency and was worthy of endorsement.   The influential Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) in Unity, Maine, was a strong supporter of LD718.  Additionally, the national trade organization, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), based in Washington, Maine, supported LD 718 and also supports the GMO labeling referendum in Oregon/Colorado.

Farmers who are members of the New Hampshire Grange, at last year’s Annual Meeting endorsed the labeling of GMO food. The huge National Farmers Union (NFU), as well as its local chapter, New England Farmers Union (NEFU), has established clear intelligent policies addressing consumer concerns.  Their positions mirrored one another and both of these farmers groups strongly support honesty and the mandatory labeling of GMO food.

In a poll taken during the legislative consideration of GMO labeling in Maine, a scientific Pan-Atlantic poll showed 91% of Maine voters favored legislation enshrining their right to know about GMOs.  Similarly, just one year ago, a scientific Mellman poll indicated 90% of New Hampshire voters support GMO labeling.  These two New England polls document broad, nearly unanimous support for GMO labeling among Republicans, Independents and Democrats.  Time and again, national polls have shown similar phenomenal support for GMO labeling:  93% in a July 2013 New York Times poll; 96% in a February 2011 MSNBC poll; and 93% in an October 2010 Reuters/NPR poll.

Maine’s two leading daily newspapers, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, last year both endorsed Maine’s GMO labeling bill.

Maine’s LD718 enjoyed the record-setting support of 123 co-sponsoring legislators.  When LD 718 came up for floor votes in the Maine Legislature it passed by staggering margins: 141-4 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate.

Internationally, 64 countries around the world, representing almost half of the world’s population, including Europe, Asia, South Africa, Russia and China have GMO labeling.

Mainers have strongly supported GMO labeling.  Maine’s Legislature had the courage to stand up to Monsanto and they overwhelmingly passed our law.  Similarly, Vermont and Connecticut both passed decisive GMO labeling laws.

Farmers in Maine and all across the United States stand along side their fellow citizens:  all of us want our right to know.  Farmers and citizens will not be fooled by Monsanto’s self-serving deception.

It is now time for Oregon/Colorado to pass your historic GMO Labeling referendum.

Jim Gerritsen grows Maine Certified seed potatoes in Bridgewater, Maine,  where his family has been farming for 38 years.