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November 5, 2012

Controversial Ag Issue on the Ballot in California

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.

A ballot measure in California could have serious implications for family farmers and ranchers, according to AFBF Regulatory Specialist Kevin Richards. AFBF’s Johnna Miller explains more about Proposition 37.  
Miller:Proposition 37 would ban foods containing genetically engineered materials unless they carry a special, California-only label. It would also prohibit most processed foods from being labeled as “natural.” American Farm Bureau Regulatory Specialist Kevin Richards says the measure would give a false impression that there’s something wrong with the foods requiring the label.
Richards:Our existing federal policy is that food doesn’t require a special label unless there is some scientific basis for it being nutritionally different or possibly have a health impact like causing an allergic reaction. That’s not the case with biotech crops. Biotech crops are as safe as conventional counterparts.So a mandatory label would be very misleading for consumers. It would imply that there is some sort of nutritional or health difference in these foods that they should be concerned about and that’s simply not the case.
Miller:Richards says Proposition 37 seems to ignore the environmental benefits of biotech crops.
Richards:For example, a lot of these biotech crops are resistant to certain herbicides and what that does is it dramatically improves the weed control which means that plants don’t have to compete with weeds in the field which creates a situation where you have a much healthier, heartier plant. While it’s not drought-specific technology, the crop and the overall field is improved to the extent where they’re able to really weather the storm of something like a drought and on the horizon we’re expecting uh you know in in the research development regulatory pipeline we we’re very likely to see technology that specifically targets environmental stress like drought.
Miller:Richards says the measure would be costly for farmers and eventually consumers.
Richards:There are costs to labeling, so you’d expect some of those costs to be passed onto consumers particularly specialized labeling - so food labeled differently for California versus the rest of the country. But you also have a situation where you make it more difficult for the t farmers to grow the crop. It’s more costly product because yields are lower, because for example they might have to use more labor to control weeds. So as it’s more difficult for farmers to do what they do best, that’s going to raise the cost of food generally for consumers.
Miller:Johnna Miller, Washington.
Miller:We have two extra actualities with AFBF Regulatory Specialist Kevin Richards. In the first extra actuality he explains more about California’s Proposition 37. The cut runs 30 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Richards:Prop 37 in California is essentially a state mandatory labeling initiative, which would require any food that was derived from biotech crops be labeled as such. It would be very unfortunate if a state proposition such as this were to undermine a federally proven scientifically-justified approach. It would really undermine the credibility of FDA and serve to basically frighten consumers about our food supply in a way that’s just not grounded at all in science.
Miller:In the second extra actuality Richards explains one reason this proposition could be such a big problem. The cut runs 19 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Richards:It’s a huge deal for a number of reasons. First of all in the U.S. roughly 90 percent of corn, soybeans and cotton in the U.S. are varieties that have been genetically engineered. Farmers over the last 15 or so years have adopted biotech crops at an amazing rate because of the economic and agronomic and environmental benefits.
Miller:Newsline is updated Mondays and Thursdays by 5pm Eastern time. Thank you for listening.

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