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January 14. 2014 5:13PM

Mike Somers: GMO labeling requirement would wreak havoc on NH restaurants

Times are tight for a lot of people in New Hampshire. But a bill before the State House (House Bill 660) would make it harder for struggling families to make ends meet, as it would directly affect the cost of food, both at the grocery store and in restaurants.

HB 660 will force food manufacturers and restaurants to label their products if they contain genetically engineered, or modified, organisms (GMOs). You may have heard of GMOs because there’s a vocal group of people who are concerned about the effects of GMOs, even though their concerns are completely unfounded. Hundreds of exhaustive scientific studies have been done, and the data prove that GMOs pose no health risks. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Society and the World Health Organization, just to name a few, all support GMOs.

If HB 660 passes, it will be impossible for restaurants to comply with the labeling requirements. As any chef will tell you, restaurants are at the mercy of the supply chain with regard to raw products and ingredients they buy. For most of our members, menu items are made by hand, and many times a dish is customized at the customer’s request. Naturally this leads to huge variation in the ingredients and makeup of any particular dish listed on a menu.

For example, imagine a restaurant on a busy night. The chef starts the night working with non-GMO tomatoes, but in the middle of dinner service he runs out of those tomatoes. He’s forced to switch to tomatoes that have GMOs. He may have intended to serve non-GMO tomatoes all night, but he is at the mercy of his produce company, which had only GMO tomatoes available.

Are we now asking the chef to halt his dinner service to reprint menus to comply with this new proposed regulation? I know most customers get very upset if their food takes a little too long to be served on a busy night; imagine the backlash if dinner service must halt until the menus are reprinted!

Consider this: soy and corn are two ingredients in many products that we all consume daily. I am guessing that the majority of us are unaware that these crops are genetically modified. Given that a lot of restaurant menu items contain one of those ingredients, the impact of labeling would be exponential. It likely would be impossible (not to mention very costly) for restaurants to track and label ingredients as menu items change — many times in the middle of dinner service. The complexity of what the restaurateur is being asked to take on will have a dramatic effect. The expense to administer this regulation and then report back to a government agency will be time consuming and cost prohibitive, with the end result being higher menu prices to consumers.

We’ve been eating genetically engineered foods for the last 20 years. In fact, most of the foods we eat today contain some form of genetically engineered material, and there have been no problems. Not only have GMOs been proven safe and nutritious, but there have been no significant differences found between them and conventional foods. Requiring labeling of GMO foods would mislead consumers into believing they should be concerned about that product’s safety.

Ninety-three percent of New Hampshire’s food is imported. If we force the companies that sell to us to incur the added costs of putting a special label on their products just to be able to sell here, they will either opt not to, or simply raise prices. If they choose the latter, the prices you pay for a good meal out will surely increase.

Those who support the bill claim the consumers have a right to know so they can make educated choices. They already have that option by selecting and buying foods labeled “Non GMO” or “Certified Organic.”

As a footnote to this discussion, it is worth noting that voters in both California and Washington voted down ballot initiatives requiring labeling. I urge the New Hampshire House of Representatives to do the same.

Mike Somers is president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.


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