AS PRESIDENT of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, I have been amazed by how little is actually known about the important role genetically modified organisms (GMOs) play in making food prices more affordable for New Hampshire families and keeping costs low for food producers and grocers who contribute to our local economy. Understanding the basic definition of genetically modified organisms, which has been lost in a campaign of politics and fear mongering, is the first step to clarifying their importance to the New Hampshire consumer and small business owner.
GMOs have been modified to include naturally occurring traits that allow for better nutritional value or the ability to grow more quickly and more plentifully. GMOs have been in the U.S. food supply for more than 20 years and currently make up about 70-80 percent of the food on our supermarket shelves. After 20 years in our food supply, there has not been a single case of GMOs causing anyone harm. As farmers have developed the ability to enhance their crops with desirable traits, consumers and small business owners, including grocers, have benefitted. In empowering farmers to fortify crops with the capability to survive adverse environmental conditions like drought, insects and pestilence, GMOs have helped farmers cut expenses associated with pesticides, irrigation systems and other aides that farmers traditionally spent large sums on to protect their crops. As producers have spent less on these input costs, food prices have declined — by as much as 30 percent, according to some estimates. The movement in some states, including here in New Hampshire, to require a patchwork of mandatory GMO labels would eliminate all GMO cost benefits for consumers and small farmers. From top to bottom in our nation’s food supply chain, mandatory GMO labeling will cause costs to increase. Grocers will feel the impact of these new regulatory burdens, making it more difficult for our members to provide consumers with affordable food options.
One recent report, by economists at Cornell University, looked at the impact that mandatory labeling would have on consumer pocketbooks and found that a family of four would pay an average of $500 more each year for groceries, with some families’ costs rising by as much as $1,500 a year. Another study found that seniors and families with annual incomes of between $10,000 and $20,000 would be most affected by rising costs, as food costs take up a larger percentage of their incomes.
Under mandatory labeling laws, GM and non-GM foods will have to be segregated as they move through the production and supply chain from start to finish, in order to guard against cross-contamination. Complying with this will require the distributors and grocers we represent at the New Hampshire Grocers Association to find and pay for additional transportation and warehouse space. For many of our members, particularly small-business owners, these costs will be prohibitive.
When customers are already seeing increased food prices, it makes no sense to increase the regulatory burden on food products even more, especially considering the fact that every leading scientific body, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the World Health Organization, has confirmed the safety of GMOs.
The impact of mandatory labeling on small food producers throughout New Hampshire would be equally as severe. As mandatory labeling laws usher in new, expensive regulations, the cost savings from GMOs that small farmers have come to depend on will be eliminated, and many New Hampshire farmers will not be able to manage.
New Hampshire consumers have a right to know that mandatory labeling will affect more than a seal on a package of food; it will also affect the prices they pay for food and the viability of our local economies.
A federal approach that puts food labeling decisions in the hands of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the right approach to take to promote consumer confidence in our food supply without raising prices on consumers and fees on local businesses. We strongly urge our representatives in Congress to support the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling act because it is important legislation that will protect New Hampshire’s small businesses, food producers and most importantly, our consumers in the checkout aisle.
John Dumais is president and CEO of the NH Grocers Association.