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The Labeling Battle: The Farm That Never Was

Eric Cho

Eric Cho on his family farm in Hawaii

Throughout my childhood and young adult life I was interested in adopting and eventually inheriting my family’s farming lifestyle. I knew my family’s farming practices like the back of my hand, and was excited to keep the years of cultivating what worked for us into a new generation. I am the son of a far\mer from Hawaii that you’ve probably never heard of, but will be a testament to many other young potential farmers that will never be.

The mindset of becoming a farmer slowly dissipated for me as I saw farmers vocally attacked and protested against for embracing a technology that wasn’t understood by the general public. Our farm has never used genetic engineering (GE) technology, but given the opportunity I’m sure we would. Knowing that I could be a target of this vitriol someday is not something that I could handle. The fear against GE crops instilled in many during the time I speak of ultimately morphed into protests against pesticide usage and labeling, which persist today.

The dialogue around labeling of genetically engineered foods is very polarized, but not along the same lines as proponents and opponents of GE in general. There exist groups who want labels on both sides. Some individuals, like Bill Nye, would like the agricultural industry to embrace labels; others want labeling to harm said industry. But in all of these dialogues, debates, and arguments no one ever stops to ask what a farmer what their thoughts are.

When you speak with any farmer they will proudly tell you that their occupation is the most stressful and yet most satisfying career to pursue. Looking into a farmer’s mind, you’ll see one of the most complex and unique business models in the world. With all of the issues on the farm to deal with such as weather, pests and diseases, the labeling conversation is yet another wrench thrown in to hinder the gears of that mind.

Consumers seem to be on board with GE labeling and it seems like a very sensible thing to support since it doesn’t hurt anyone for a tiny sticker to be placed on produce. Even farmers who don’t grow GE or organic crops think along the same line because it doesn’t affect them directly to care. The sad realization comes into play when you stand back a bit and look at the war that “the industry” is playing on the farmer and the consumer.

View of the author's family farm

The voluntary labeling for organic farmers was and still is a great marketing strategy no matter how you look at it. It is a very successful marketing campaign that would lead you to assume that organic is much tastier than the conventional counterpart while making you believe the fallacy that you’re doing better for your health.

GE marketing is much different than the organic industry. There is very minimal labeling involved with the sole drive of “passing the savings” on to the consumer. Labeling of a GE crop will use the savings passed to the consumer and instead leave the farmer to deal with the associated costs. The farmer ends up always in the losing situation no matter what kind of label is put on.

I see no problem with agriculture industries coexisting with one another and I believe that there is a market for all farming practices to prosper. At the end of the day the farmer’s goal is to make sure that everyone is fed after all. Labels are counterintuitive to this issue and provide only a sense of superiority that many of us are entangled with in other labeling brands.

 

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