INSIGHTS: LABELING FOODS WITH GENETIC FEARS
America feeds the world.
During the past half-century, improvements in productivity, land management and agricultural sciences have made this nation the world’s storehouse. It’s a good thing, because with more than 7 billion people living on Planet Earth, no other country is up for the challenge.
One discovery that is positively changing food production is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In the agricultural sector, GMOs use genetic manipulation to produce crops that are more disease-resistant, can thrive in harsher condition, or in some other way permit the farmers who use them to produce higher yields.
To some, GMOs are controversial — be it for health or safety concerns, or even religious beliefs. Rather than looking at the benefits of GMOs, such as the fact that they add considerable gross tonnage to the food pyramid, anti-GMO activists are trying to hamper these benefits by demanding a new regulatory regime to label GMOs.
On Jan. 9, Maine Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a Genetically Modified Organism labeling law, making his state the second, after Connecticut, to require foods incorporating GMOs to identify themselves as such. In praise of Mr. LePage, Rebecca Spector, speaking on behalf of the deceptively named Center for Food Safety, said, “American consumers want the right to know what is in the food they eat, plain and simple.”
While she may be right, she fails to mention how much consumers want to know — and how much extra they would be willing to pay for that information. She also ignores whether the trade-off is equitable and in the consumer’s long-term interest.
What Ms. Spector may not want to admit, for such an admission does not help her cause, is that groups, such as the Non-GMO Project have already paved the way for labeling measures that inform consumers and to ensure these labeling standards are clear and enforced. Thanks to these groups, consumers can be certain that products labeled “organic” are inherently free of GMOs. Owing to this effort, those who produce and sell organic food have seen their share of the market grow.
Consumers do not need additional government rules to find out which foods contain GMOs — existing regulations governing organic foods already provide that information. Those who want to avoid GMOs can do so by buying foods that are certified “organic.” The effort to mandate labeling of GMOs is not in the consumers’ best interests, but instead is a way to drive the share of the market occupied by organic foods even higher.
Using scare tactics and propaganda campaigns, anti-GMO activists are trying to convince Americans that GMOs are dangerous — that they are some kind of “Frankenfood.” This ignores more than a century of evidence that shows that the genetics of plants can be manipulated safely to produce better yields, bigger fruits and heartier products.
Consumers who are skeptical of GMOs have already incorporated that sentiment into their shopping. There is plenty of evidence showing these consumers are buying organic products to avoid genetically modified ingredients. It is unnecessary to force food suppliers to label foods containing GMOs, just as it is unnecessary to label bacon as non-kosher.
Fear-mongering may help line the pockets of so-called independent groups or producers of certain so-called approved goods. Federal standards for organic products are already in place, and the agriculture industry is working to develop and improve voluntary guidelines that should make additional intervention by the government unnecessary. Consumer choice is not just some kind of ivory tower idea — it is a proven standard many decades old. People who want organic food will buy it. They don’t need to be told what isn’t organic to make an informed choice.
There are plenty of issues America’s farmers and food producers can focus on to better mankind: increasing food production, reducing or eliminating tariffs that keep the food prices artificially high around the world, and finding better methods to provide food to those who cannot grow it themselves.
Spending time needlessly arguing over whether foods containing GMOs must be labeled is not one of these most important issues. Rather, it is just a way to make the government a part of an advertising campaign intended to enrich a few at the expense of the many.
ON THE ECONOMY: MYSTERY TRAIN
Train train, comin’ ’round, ’round the bend. Train train, comin’ ’round, ’round the bend. Well it took my baby, but it never will again – Never will again. The 1953 Junior Parker song was written by Mr. Parker and Sun Studios founder, Sam Phillips and recorded on the label in Memphis Tennessee. This blues standard has been recorded by everyone from Elvis to Grace Potter and was even performed by The Band in the Last Waltz documentary. Today there is a new mystery train, one operated by billionaire investor Warren Buffett that competes with pipelines like the proposed Keystone XL recently rejected by the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Billed as a means to ship so-called dirty oil from oil sand fields in Alberta to refineries on the US Gulf Coast, the Keystone XL is designed to be one of many pipelines carrying crude oil from fields across the country to oil refineries located in specific areas. Most importantly, the Keystone XL will traverse the area of eastern Montana and western North Dakota where the Bakken shale oil fields are located. This region is home to some of America’s key oil producing fields, and where the growth in the US petroleum industry is concentrated. Unfortunately, it is also a sparsely populated area with no major oil refining operations. The closest refineries to the Bakken fields are actually located in Minneapolis and Denver, and only the Denver refineries are connected by pipelines to North Dakota. To get oil from wells in North Dakota to refineries, one must generally use rail cars, and the railroad of choice is Buffet’s Burlington Northern.
According to a recent article published by Sandy Fielden at RBN energy it costs upwards of $10 more per barrel of crude to ship oil out of the Bakken by rail rather than pipeline (to Cushing Oklahoma) and shipments to refineries in Minnesota are costing about $15 per barrel (again about $10 more than pipelines would cost). These costs work their way through the production process and make everything from driving, to flying to heating homes more expensive.
In addition to this, the demand for rail cars to move oil has hampered the ability of other industries to receive reliable freight rail service. Across the economy, in industries as varied as steel production to wheat and soybean farming, the inability to receive reasonable and timely rail service has led to increased operating costs and lower profitability.
Keystone is not the only reason why this has happened. In fact, the nation’s infrastructure just was not ready to deal with the massive growth in petroleum production over the past decade. It is faster and less expensive to create new rail terminals and use rail-as-pipeline shipping options in the short term. Pipelines have been developed to move more oil out of the Bakken to refineries in Denver and on the West Coast, and new refining capacity has been added in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. Still, the stalled Keystone pipeline – which would directly serve the large fields in western North Dakota – would greatly help alleviate the existing bottlenecks.
What does the country receive for this increased cost? Not much. While the President and certain environmental fronts have suggested that the pipeline might lead to environmental damage, the fact is that existing pipelines already criss-cross the areas where Keystone would be built. In addition, it is dramatically safer and more environmentally friendly to move oil by pipe than by rail.
The bottom line is that in politics it is always important to follow the money. While the construction of more pipelines, including Keystone XL will benefit consumers, agriculture, and manufacturing, it will cost the BNSF railroad a large captive market. While Mr. Buffett feigns support for the pipeline, he is really the one who benefits most from its delay. He is also one of the Administrations largest campaign contributors. It’s not a mystery why Keystone is being delayed nor is a mystery why American’s do not trust the government.