Idaho Anti-GMO Labeling Talk Concerns Farm Bureau

Idaho Anti-GMO Labeling Talk Concerns Farm Bureau     By John O’Connell Capital Press


Idaho Farm Bureau Federation officials worry any proposal to legislatively block state or county labeling requirements for genetically modified organisms would needlessly bring negative attention to Idaho agriculture.

Idaho’s sugar industry has started discussions about such a bill and assigned its lobbyist, Roy Eiguren, to draft various proposals for industry consideration.

“We’re not to the point of really making a decision as to how we’re going to approach the labeling issues and GMOs in general in the upcoming Legislature,” said Vic Jaro, president and CEO of Amalgamated Sugar Co. “In general concepts, we as a company are opposed to labeling biotech ingredients on food packaging.”

Mark Duffin, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association, said several different drafts and concepts have been discussed, but nothing is “ready for public consumption.”

“We’ve been kind of working with a group of agricultural representatives to look at the tactics one could take to forestall these local initiatives like there’s been in Oregon and Washington and Colorado,” Duffin said. “We’re in the process of discussions on that.”

Idaho Farm Bureau spokesman John Thompson said his organization voiced its concerns earlier this month during a meeting of agricultural representatives and lobbyists with Food Producers of Idaho, which hosts weekly meetings during the legislative session to address issues related to agriculture and natural resources.

Thompson said Farm Bureau reasons there’s no risk of a GMO labeling initiative passing in conservative Idaho anyway, and the timing is bad, given that the state just finished a high-profile debate during the last session about its so-called “ag gag” law, which prohibits secret recordings of farming operations.

“It puts pressure on the legislators. We don’t see any reason for that now,” Thompson said of proposing anti-labeling legislation. “If it were a pressing issue, yes, we’d do it. But there’s so much going on this year, especially related to transportation and new taxes and education, we don’t see good reasons to take the spotlight away from those issues.”

Thompson said Farm Bureau would prefer to focus on a national solution. For example, a bill is expected to be reintroduced soon by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., that would implement a common standard for voluntary GMO labeling.

Duffin said Idaho sugar supported the Pompeo bill last year.

“We’d like federal legislation so everybody would play by the same rules,” Duffin said.

For the time being, Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, chairman of Idaho’s House Agricultural Affairs Committee, sees little momentum behind a state GMO labeling bill. Andrus said Amalgamated advised him in early December to expect a hearing on a bill, and he recently heard from Farm Bureau no hearing is likely in the near future.

To raise local awareness about GMO science, Jaro said some media outlets were invited to hear a leading GMO expert speak Jan. 15 during Snake River Sugar Cooperative’s annual meeting.

Jaro said sugar is pure sucrose, and there’s no difference between GMO and conventional sugar, as his company has proven in demonstrations in which third parties collected sugar from factories for testing.

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