A SAFE, Silly Trick

There’s little safety and virtually no accuracy in SAFE, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, July 23.

It was written by Big Ag to protect Big Ag, not consumers, even though nine out of 10 American consumers want food labels to disclose the presence of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. SAFE all but ensures that will not happen.

Why don’t American farmers and ranchers want their customers to know what’s in the food they are growing for them?

One reason is that global ag giants, fronted by the politically powerful farm and ranch groups, want to maintain the commodity-driven status quo that affords them cheap goods to sell the world over. That means, at least to them, no labeling.

But SAFE isn’t the law yet. The slick legislative moves used by backers to wheedle its quick passage through the House won’t work in the Senate.

That the House passed SAFE so quickly shows just how fast the creaky old institution and its Ag Committee can grab its needles and yarn when big farm and ranch groups want some knitting done.

A year ago, SAFE, a proposal to supersede state attempts to label GMOs in food, was stuck in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. No one in the deeply split, Republican-dominated House had much interest in pulling it out.

Then some yet-unnamed legislative sharpie—most likely an in-the-know lobbyist—suggested the proposed bill be altered to empower the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a “voluntary” GMO food-labeling program as a pacifier to pro-labeling foodies.

That addition—loudly trumpeted but largely meaningless, say foodies—got the bill moved from Energy and Commerce to Agriculture.

It was a brilliant maneuver. Ag leaders quickly shifted into warp drive and on July 14, the full committee met to consider SAFE. That consideration totaled all of 15 minutes before members, in a bipartisan vote, easily approved it.

The bill then moved to a full House vote July 23. Only four of a dozen proposed amendments to it were permitted a vote (all failed) before SAFE was approved 275 to 150. A dozen Republican House members opposed it, however, while 45 Democrats favored it.

After the vote, farm groups praised the House for, as American Soybean Association President Wade Cowan crowed, acting to deliver a “significant victory for the freedom of soybean farmers… (while) avoid(ing) the inevitable demonization of these products based on debunked science and willful misinformation.”

Inevitable demonization, debunked science, and willful misinformation?

Is that really what soybean growers see when they look across the fields at American consumers? If so, little wonder these customers are increasingly distrustful of Big Ag. Who are they supposed to trust when they are defined as knowing liars who promote bunk and “inevitably” demonize farmers?

The truth is, of course, that nearly every consumer ever polled about GMO labeling favors it because they, like farmers and ranchers, simply want to know what they are buying. That’s it: what is it.

In other words, it’s about transparency, not “demonization” and not “misinformation.” Farmers and ranchers, after all, operate on transparency, too.

For example, no farmer you know buys one seed variety over another without knowing everything possible about both. Likewise, no rancher buys a herd bull if the rancher doesn’t receive complete, accurate breeding and performance records to study before writing the check.

Moreover, if a seed company or breeding stock firm operated on anything less than complete transparency, they wouldn’t be around for long.

Nor will farmers and ranchers who think SAFE is safe. It’s not; it’s just a trick.

Worse, it’s not a very smart or long-lived trick. Just ask your customers; you know, those demonizing bunk-peddling liars who pay your bills.

© 2015 ag comm

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