Keiser: Debbie Stabenow’s tax on eating

Carol Keiser

No one will say how much money Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow raised at a fundraiser sponsored by the organic-food industry on March 11, but there’s no doubt about what she did just a few days later.

She came out against a pro-consumer bill that many farmers support but that her financial backers likely urged her to oppose.

The $35-billion organic-food industry’s is emerging as a major force in Washington, where it seeks to lobby lawmakers by bankrolling the likes of Stabenow, who is the ranking member on the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture.

From an office just a block from the Capitol, the Organic Trade Association has tried for years to require warning labels on food with genetically modified ingredients. Although its spin doctors have come up with compelling slogans about how consumers have a “right to know” what’s in their food, the group’s real agenda is to frighten people into thinking their food may contain ingredients that are unhealthy.

Even Sen. Stabenow said that “there’s no evidence that GMOs aren’t safe.”

This is why the “nutrition facts” that appear on food packages are silent on the question of GMOs. The science is clear: GMOs are safe to eat. Mandatory labels would confuse consumers, steering them away from safe products — and into the grasping arms of the organic-food industry, whose products are substantially more expensive.

Under a Vermont law that takes effect in July, however, food with GMO ingredients must carry a special label that will provide no useful information about health or nutrition. A recent study says that if other states follow Vermont’s lead, the costs of compliance will force the typical American family to fork over an additional $1,000 per year.

This invisible tax on eating is an assault on the interests of ordinary Americans.

But a bipartisan majority in the House last year passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which would keep labeling consistent across state lines.

Earlier this month, the Senate came close to approving its own version of the bill. “We need Senator Stabenow now more than ever,” said Gary Hirschberg, whose company makes organic yogurt. He cited his desire to stop efforts “to block mandatory GMO labeling.”

On March 15, just a few days after collecting campaign cash from Hirschberg and others, Sen. Stabenow came out against compromise legislation on transparency and labeling.

She took the side of a special-interest group over a common-sense solution to tell the truth about what farmers grow and to protect the pocketbooks of people who need affordable food.

Carol Keiser volunteers on the board of the Global Farmer Network.