Note: This post was originally published as a Marketfriends email on Oct. 9.
The campaign about Measure 92 has caused a few customer questions worth answering here.
One of our farmers reported getting asked if the measure would hurt family farmers like her. Because this was a farm that follows organic practices, she was a bit taken aback. She asked me to explain market guidelines about GMOs and related matters.
The proposed labeling requirement will not affect most farmers’ market vendors directly. That is because of choices they and CAFM have made prior to Measure 92, which I’ll explain here.
This is not to say that every last one of our 140 or so vendors agrees with what I’ll say here and elsewhere about GMOs. But generally I think they’d want our customers to know at least this much.
In 2010 we added some non-GMO language to CAFM guidelines. We knew most farmers’ market customers had non-GMO expectations long before 2010. But there were no GMO seeds on the market for the types of crops sold at farmers’ markets.
Leading into that season I learned that GMO sweet corn would become available in places where growers might buy seed, and GMO weaner pigs were coming, I brought the issue to our board, which is mostly farmers.
What we chose was a ban (not just labeling). Here’s what it says in guidelines:
CAFM now prohibits its vendors from knowingly selling products grown from GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds or animals that are themselves genetically modified. Vendors also should be alert for situations in which their crops could be contaminated by GMO pollen. Until recently there were few GMO market products available to growers — either plant or animal, but this is now starting to change.
The board deliberated and chose not to address GMO animal feed at that time. As non-GMO feed becomes available, we could consult with meat and poultry vendors and revisit that issue.
Measure 92 does not require labeling of animal products that ingested feed containing GMOs. You are free to ask each meat and poultry farmer at the market what they do. Which is much more info than you’ll get at the grocery store in most cases.
What you would learn by talking to our meat vendors is that small farmers are trying to evolve their feed away from soybeans and corn, which are now largely grown from GMO seeds. Cows can be entirely grass-fed, but other meat animals need additional feed. So the GMO avoiders are working to find other affordable sources of protein.
And no, they cannot just grow all their own feed and store it. Ask one of our farmers how many tons of feed they use a year. (Psst: We need more people growing field peas in Oregon.)
Oddly, the lack of animal feed coverage is being used as an argument against the measure. (It is probable that the opponents also would be unhappy if animal feed were covered.)
Perhaps animal feed could and should be added to the law later — that would ultimately increase availability of non-GMO feed. Measures can be amended in the legislature or by later measures.
A surprising argument I read in the Capital Press was Katie Fast with the Oregon Farm Bureau worrying aloud about small farmers who use the Farm Direct law to produce jam and preserves. Yes, they will have to find a non-GMO sweetener or label the sugar as GMO, and there may be a period with less than optimal access to non-GMO sugar.
The strange part is that I personally witnessed Katie Fast testifying in 2011 against the part of the Farm Direct bill that gave these farmers the right to make the jams in the first place. It was sugar beet growers who decided to go GMO and not save seed so they’d have an option to reverse course — not our small fruit growers.
Farmers who label organic or non-GMO are largely for the labeling measure even though it can be argued they’ll lose a competitive advange. If the measure changes practices, there could be lessened risk for genetic and herbicide drift. But mostly these farmers will benefit from consumer expectations bending in their direction.
As you consider this issue, I ask you to think beyond TV commercials and even beyond the question of whether GMOs are safe to ingest.
Besides the large question of whether you are allowed to know what you are feeding your family when it’s not farm direct, you also may be concerned with:
- protecting the health of farmworkers, pollinators and beneficial fungi and bacteria in the soil;
- slowing the rate of pesticide and herbicide resistance;
- or addressing the inbalance of power between farmers and and the companies who control seeds and chemical markets.