Farm to Table: Navigating Food Forum
Consumer acceptance of biotech crops was the theme for the Navigating Food Forum featuring Pam Bailey, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Jane De Marchi, vice president of government relations for the American Seed Trade Association. The forum, held during the at the IDEAg Trade Show, discussed how farmers and ranchers as well as other factors of the food supply chain are dealing with food regulations.
Bailey explained that her association is the link between agricultural and consumers. “You harvest the products, we provide the link to them and the consumers,” she said. “A federal law in 2016 dictated disclosure standards for bio-tech products. There was a state-by-state GMO labeling fight going on which necessitated 1100 food-oriented organizations across the United States formed to address the labeling issue. There is a lot of power in the value chain of working together. As food manufacturers, we had a greater responsibility on labeling issues. We needed to tell consumers why bio-tech ingredients were all right.”
In 18 months the GMA pulled together 320 people from 19 companies to provide data so by scanning a QR code or “Smart Label” consumers can instantly find out about that food product. Today 20,000 products have the Smart Label, with 40,000 additional products expected to be labeled by June.
DeMarchi said the seed association has members who produce everything from alfalfa to zucchini. “This rule was considered a win for consumers and growers because it provides transparency for consumers and a nationwide standard for growers. American farmers and ranchers use a variety of tools to feed, fuel and clothe consumers. These include new plant breeding techniques. Keep in mind that using bio-technology is a tool, not an end result. We need to remind people about the excitement and opportunities bio-tech crops provide and don’t feed into the fear. Today, gene-editing is becoming more common, which allows the farmer to make small, precise changes. There are many countries interested in this new technology.”
Bailey agreed that although technology and innovation are very important in producing food today, consumers want transparency.
“We need to talk to both regulator and consumers and do it in a thoughtful way,” she said.
DeMarchi echoed the sentiment. “We can’t communicate enough about new technologies. We need to stay together and make connection with our urban consumers. Remember, this is a global story not a local one. Farmers, ranchers and food companies need to speak with one voice. We need to continue to tell our stories to consumers. They want to know about us.”
Montana Farm Bureau member Lillian Ostendorf, who serves as western region representative on the Women’s Leadership Committee, said, “I thought it was phenomenal to learn that you can scan the Smart Label and discover all of the ingredients for those with allergy concerns. You can also follow the links to learn more about the farm where that food was produced.”
The American Farm Bureau Convention ran January 5-10 in Nashville, Tennessee. There are 30 Montana Farm Bureau members attending the event.
–Montana Farm Bureau