GMO labeling movement stagnant in Texas

By: Matt McGovern Email
By: Matt McGovern Email
GMO products are made from planting seeds with engineered DNA, and make up about 90% of cash crops nationwide.

Gerald Cole checks his kale plants.

AUSTIN, TX (Texas Tribune) - When Eric Herm heard in 2005 that genetically modified cottonseeds were the latest innovation on the market, he thought he should plant the crop on his family farm near Lubbock. 

After learning that the “seeds are injected with the genes of herbicides and pesticides,” Herm became critical of the product. “I didn’t want to be consuming that,” he said. “And neither would you.” 

Now, Herm is advocating a requirement to include warning labels on consumer products with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. He is among a small group of farmers and environmental advocates pushing for the labeling of GMO products in Texas. But the push is getting little support from the Republican-dominated state leadership or from major agribusinesses. 

Herm said it was a struggle to get people’s attention. “Where I live, 90 percent of the people were looking at me like I was saying the aliens are coming,” he said. 

GMO products, which are made from planting seeds with engineered DNA, make up about 90% of cash crops like cotton, corn and soybeans nationwide, according to the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, which supports labeling. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also supports labeling but has said it is voluntary because foods with GMOs are safe to eat. 

Maine and Connecticut require GMO products to be labeled, and 26 other states have considered legislation. In Texas, there has been no such proposal, though interest has grown. Austin-based Whole Foods Market announced that by 2018, it would label products with genetically modified ingredients. 

Most farmers oppose GMO labeling because it brings unnecessary attention to the product, which could slow sales, said Gene Hall, a spokesman for the Texas Farm Bureau, which represents agricultural producers across Texas, including large agribusinesses.  

But activists say the issue is about keeping consumers informed. 

Some labeling proponents say agribusinesses have lobbied against their efforts. “For a long time, these agribusinesses have been incredibly powerful in keeping GMO labeling out of the Legislature,” said Sara Smith, program director of the nonprofit Texas Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization. 

Organic farmers like Herm and Gerald Cole of Taylor, who support GMO labeling, said their smaller numbers were at a disadvantage against food conglomerates. 

Hall said he was unaware of the millions spent on lobbying, but added: “There is nothing wrong with it. We’re opposed to labeling, and we’re not afraid to say so.” 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/03/24/despite-efforts-texas-not-interested-gmo-labeling/.


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