By: Trevor Brown 

Lawmakers are planning to look at how Wyoming treats genetically modified foods and plants.

But don’t expect this state to follow the lead of others that have passed laws requiring companies to label products which contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee will study the topic as part of its interim work over the next several months.

The panel has not announced when it will consider the issue. But it is tentatively set to meet May 11-12 in Riverton and Sept. 14-15 in Afton.

Rep. Robert McKim, R-Afton, co-chairs the panel. He said he doesn’t necessarily expect legislation to come out of the talks.

Instead, this is a way for lawmakers to get more information on a topic that has caused controversy in other states, he added.

“We really have not delved into GMOs before,” McKim said. “So this is a chance to get some information and testimony on it.”

GMOs can be found in a variety of common agriculture and processed products. They have caused a stir in many states as residents and experts question whether they are safe.

Several groups, such as the Organic Consumers Association, also say there should be transparency with a technology they say is untested.

“The reason we want labeling is so people can chose whether they want to buy them or not,” said Ronnie Cummings.

He is the national director of the association.

“It is not some abstract right to know that consumers wake up thinking about,” he added.

“Polls show people are quite concerned about pesticides, pesticide residue and GMOs. And that is because, in this country, they are not properly and independently tested.”

Last year these concerns prompted Vermont to become the first state to pass a law requiring processed foods to come with labels saying they contain GMOs.

And several bills or ballot initiatives in other states, including Colorado, to put in place similar labeling requirements have been proposed but have fallen short of passing.

Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, requested the study after hearing concerns from agricultural producers, specifically sugar beet growers, in his district.

Greear opposes labeling requirements for GMO products. But said he wants to have the discussion so experts can clarify a lot of “misinformation” that has been put out by anti-GMO groups.

“We want to make sure the Legislature is knowledgeable about this particular issue,” he said.

“This can be a very emotional issue, but mankind has been modifying or genetically engineering their crops forever. So we just want to come in and show they are not evil.”

Robin Groose is an associate professor of agroecology and plant breeding at the University of Wyoming. He agreed with Greear that there is no evidence showing GMOs are harmful.

“People ask whether (they) are safe are not,” he said. “But I see it as whether they are safer than (non-GMO products), and I believe they are.”

Groose said “fear and ignorance” are to blame for the pushback against GMOs. He said studies have found them to have both health and environmental benefits.

Groose added GMOs are a standard and important part of Wyoming’s agricultural industry.

He said sugar beets, industry wide, are genetically modified to withstand certain herbicides. And Wyoming-grown corn and alfalfa also are commonly genetically engineered.

“It is truly important to growers here in Wyoming,” he said. “Growers see an increase in profitability, and it is relatively inexpensive to use GMOs compared to using some herbicides or insecticides.”

Originally Published: Wyoming Tribune Eagle