By: Willy Blackmore

Thanks to its status as the first state in the country to weigh in on the presidential primary races with its January caucus, Iowa plays a major role in early campaigning. That usually requires candidates to make friendly comments about ethanol, lionize the American Farmer, and eat folksy food at any number of small-town cafés and diners. This election cycle, however, the leading candidates in the Democratic primary are staking out more nuanced positions on something near and dear to Iowa politics: genetically engineered crops such as corn and soy, which blanket much of the state.

At a Thursday campaign event in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton, who worked for the law firm that represents Monsanto in the 1980s, said she supported GMOs in general but is “against what’s a movement right now in the Congress, which is to preempt state decision-making regarding GMOs,” referencing what anti-GMO activists have dubbed the DARK Act—Denying Americans the Right to Know. Instead of disallowing state-level labeling measures—as the bill now working its way through Congress would—Clinton said she’s in favor of “efforts to try to move toward labeling and to try to encourage companies to use technology like bar codes and other techniques online.” Clinton’s idea would allow concerned customers to learn more about the food they’re buying and how it was grown. 

Her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, holds a similar position, according to his website: “Bernie supports allowing states to require labels on foods containing ‘genetically modified organisms’ (GMOs) based on the consumer’s right-to-know, but does not believe that GMOs are necessarily bad.” Last year, Vermont became the first state to pass a law requiring foods with GMO ingredients to be labeled.

While the issue is often painted as a partisan one among voters, a December 2014 poll conducted by The Associated Press-GfK found support for labeling from both Democrats and Republicans. Among Democrats, 71 percent said they supported labeling laws, while 64 percent of Republicans did.  

At the Iowa Ag Summit in March, a number of leading GOP candidates spoke about GMOs and labeling. “We should not try to make it harder for that kind of innovation to exist. We should celebrate it,” Jeb Bush said of genetic engineering technology.

For his part, Ted Cruz sounded a bit more like Sanders and Clinton, albeit with a Libertarian lean: “People who decide that’s what they want, they can pay for it already,” he said. “But we shouldn’t let anti-science zealotry shut down the ability to produce low cost, quality food for billions across the globe.”

Originally Published: TakePart