May/June 2015
Let the marketplace decide By John Keeling, NPC Vice President and CEO

The historic success of farmers in the United States in providing consumers with safe, abundant and affordable food results from the interaction of hard work and the application of innovative technologies. It is vital that growers continue to have access to technologies to meet consumer demand for variety, quality and enhanced nutrition while using less land and conserving soil, water and energy.

Historically, there often has been opposition or fear of new agricultural technologies and today is no different. A certain class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, is currently under fire based on nonexistent or inconclusive science linking their use to the health of pollinators. Similarly, opponents of biotechnology-derived foods want to deny farmers and consumers access to the beneficial traits of these products. Adopting cutting edge technology makes sense to farmers who want to increase productivity and better manage production risks. Thoughtful consumers realize that the application of agriculture technology enhances food production, but also can enhance the environment.

The grand design is that all of this gets sorted out through effective science-based government review and consumer preference expressed in the marketplace. In the case of crop protection chemicals like neonicotinoids, the EPA thoroughly evaluates new products for adverse effects on the environment, agriculture workers and the food consuming public before the product can be applied. This process is repeated periodically for all crop protection products. For seeds and plants developed through biotechnology, USDA handles the evaluation of potential environmental impacts and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) handles the food safety evaluations. For biotech, the food safety evaluation is voluntary, although all food biotechnology providers have submitted their products for review. The potato industry and the vast majority of the food industry supports making this food safety review mandatory.

The regulatory process is in place so that consumers can place confidence in the safety of the agricultural technology that helps produce their food. Now the marketplace can go to work and supply consumers with what each individual consumer desires. Consumers can ask for conventionally produced products or organic products as they prefer. They can select food produced using biotechnology or food that used only products derived from conventional breeding techniques – the choice is theirs.

There are a few things Congress can and should do to make sure consumers, farmers and other food providers communicate effectively and efficiently in the market place. Congress should not require labels on any food or food product to make food safety claims where the federal regulatory authorities have not identified any threats to human health. They should establish the FDA as the final authority on food safety and food labeling. Congress should not allow a patchwork of individual state food labeling laws to confuse consumers and make the national distribution of food more complicated and inefficient.

Based on that set of rules, consumers will purchase just the potato they want. Growers will be free to decide which consumer they want to serve and, equally important, potato growers will continue to make decisions on which scientifically valid technology they use.

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