Washington Insider-- Friday

New Anti-GMO Boycott Threat

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

EPA Not Complying with RFS Reporting Requirements: OIG

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not complied with reporting and other requirements related to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), according to report by the EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

EPA's failure to provide triennial reports to Congress on the environmental impacts of biofuels comes at a time of bipartisan interest in determining whether the RFS is working, the report said. "The EPA, Congress and other stakeholders lack key information on biofuel impacts needed to make science-based decisions about RFS," the OIG said.

The report singled out EPA’s Office of Research and Development for failing to comply with a requirement to provide a report every three years to Congress on the impacts of biofuels. EPA provided such a report to Congress in 2011, but has not provided a report since.

Also, EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation has not met "anti- backsliding" requirements for the RFS, which analyze and address any negative air quality impacts associated with the program, the OIG said.

"The EPA does not have an assessment that meets the requirement to identify whether RFS creates any impacts on air quality and, thus, take required measures to mitigate impacts," according to the report. "This information is needed to fully inform the EPA, Congress and other stakeholders of the environmental impacts of US biofuel policy."

Vilsack Plans Forums Across US

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack plans forums across the country to identify existing and emergency issues for farmers, rural America. The sessions in part will be a list for the next president.

Vilsack said each forum, beginning with one Aug. 29 at the University of Arkansas on changes in land ownership, will focus on specific topics and be attended by USDA officials. Vilsack plans to lead one at Arizona State University in mid-September on the effect of climate change on water and land uses. Sessions later in the fall will focus on agricultural exports, plant and animal pests and diseases, agricultural research and new markets and local foods and market opportunities for farmers.

Administrations usually provide transition guidance papers to their successors. Vilsack said the guidance also will serve as his departing advice on issues the next administration should address in congressional farm bill discussions, work that will begin in 2017.

Washington Insider: New Anti-GMO Boycott Threat

Earlier this summer, Congress passed a bill to establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, and the President signed it into law. You might think that this would end the extremely bitter fight over labels, but apparently not. The Hill is reporting this week that a group of label advocates has sent a somewhat surprising, “To Whom It May Concern" threat letter to food manufactures concerning future boycotts.

The letter begins with a direct confrontation, "You may be relieved that President Obama caved under industry pressure and signed S 764, the Dark Act, into law. You may think that putting a QR Code, website, telephone number or symbol to 'label' some GMOs will be sufficient to handle the GMO issue for your customers. You would be mistaken." It gets more specific and more grandiose from there.

"We are mothers, parents, and consumers of all kinds, who are aware that GMOs could be in your products." It says. "We’re resolved to simply not buy any products that could contain GMOs or toxic chemicals." This will be done by reading labels and "if we do not see a clear indication that the ingredients are Non-GMO and certified organic, without toxic chemicals, we will assume it is GMO and contains toxic pesticides/herbicides and won’t buy it."

So, in the new world all is considered GMO unless proven otherwise. The threats continue. "As much as we possibly can, we will only buy products which are both certified Organic and Non GMO Project Verified. We will ask our friends, neighbors and associates to do the same. There are millions of us."

Then, the letter says it is the food manufacturers’ fault. "You must understand by now that we do not want GMOs and toxic pesticides in our food of any kind. We do not want genetically altered sugar, soy, corn, cottonseed oil, gene-edited rice or syn bio vanilla. Otherwise, why would so many of you try to hide them?"

Furthermore, "We reject the concept of patenting life, the practice of altering DNA and consuming higher amounts of toxic pesticides/herbicides as safe."

And, "While you may think that buying the cheaper GMO ingredients will be more profitable for you, you will see how wrong that is. What would be most profitable is to use organic ingredients without genetically altered foreign proteins and toxic pesticides. What would be most profitable is to be responsible for providing healthy food to the public and gain our trust."

The grandiose part comes next, "There are millions more consumers every day who are learning about GMOs and you cannot stop that awareness by hiding GMOs in your products. The next generation has been educated about the dangers of GMOs and they will soon be your primary target consumers."

Then, the heart of the matter. "Pesticides kill and are unsafe to eat. We do not want GMOs, labeled or not."

So, for this group, it is not about labels, it is about "justification" show the organic, non-GMO brand, or forget it.

Most advocates offer some type of justification, but not this group, which seems to be called "Moms Across America." The Hill doesn’t comment on the approach used, it just printed the letter with its modest list of signatories. Advocates of modern ag technology have suspected that much of the labeling effort was simply an urge to kill a technology and promote the "organic" brand and that seems to be the case here.

It seems clear that USDA, which is tasked with defining details of the federal label rules over the next two years, is faced with yet another thankless task. While the objective of this group seems much broader than others, it seems clear that increasing reliance on organic foods would lead to much higher food costs and, possibly to efforts to water down the definition of "organic."

It also raises the question of whether the group has really thought through what they are pushing for; not only the elimination of many medical and other benefits from enhanced foods, but certainly, much higher consumer food costs, as well. If this concept ever really were involved in a debate, it would be interesting how those costs and benefits could be accounted for, Washington Insider believes.

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