|Agriculture Commissioner is missing the point on GE seeds : By Annie Christopher|
Times Argus Commentary
Agriculture Commissioner is missing the point on GE seeds - Mar. 30, 2004
By Annie Christopher
On Feb. 4, I testified before the House Agriculture Committee regarding
mandatory labeling of products containing genetically engineered (GE)
ingredients. I am co-owner with my husband, Peter Backman, of Annie's
Naturals, located in North Calais. We have been manufacturing natural
and organic salad dressings for 20 years, and our products are now the
best-selling dressings in the natural food market and rank fifth in
traditional grocery stores.
At the hearing, I testified that consumers have a right to know if
products they purchase and consume contain GE ingredients. I also
testified that a major ingredient of our products is non-GE canola oil,
which we purchase in Canada, and for which we pay three times as much as
we would if we were buying conventional canola oil.
I would like to respond to a comment that Agriculture Commissioner Steve
Kerr made about the hearing in the story titled " 'GE' crop foes cite
damage to Vermont image." Commissioner Kerr is quoted as saying, "If
we're concerned about Vermont agriculture, we need to focus on companies
that use Vermont farm products as ingredients, as opposed to companies
that import their ingredients to obtain the cachet of the Vermont
Commissioner Kerr's comments are an obvious swipe at Annie's Naturals
and other Vermont specialty food companies, as well as the GE issue in
general. His statement misses the point of the hearing entirely and is
way off base.
With regard to the so-called cachet of our company, our "cachet" is
based on a long history of stewardship in the state. Annie's Naturals is
located in North Calais at The Foster Homestead, which is still an
operating dairy farm. The farm has been in Peter's family for seven
generations. George Washington Foster settled with his wife Polly Kelton
in the early 1800s, and he was one of the first legislators in the
state. Their descendents have served the state and our community for
any generations, and Annie's Naturals is only the most recent chapter
of a very long history of agricultural-related activities at the Foster
In fact, I was one of the original organizers of the Vermont Specialty
Food Association. For Commissioner Kerr to suggest that Annie's Naturals
is obtaining the cachet of the Vermont label in some unfair way is
undeserved. Our company pays taxes, employs people, purchases organic
and all-natural ingredients from Vermont farmers whenever possible, and
makes numerous financial contributions to nonprofits in the surrounding
Why did I testify for the need for mandatory labeling of GE ingredients,
as well as a moratorium on GE seed? I have been in the specialty foods
and natural foods business for 20 years, and I hear from our consumers
every day, who call us regarding what they want in the products they
eat. Consumers have, historically, been the driving force behind
labeling laws, and I hear it all the time - they want to know if what
they are eating contains GE ingredients.
Commissioner Kerr says he wants to focus on companies that use Vermont
farm products as ingredients. But what about the farmers who buy grain
and hay from out of state and Canada to feed their cows to make milk?
How are their businesses different from ours? We buy non-GE canola oil
in Canada to make salad dressing, in part, because we cannot obtain it
in state and because our Canadian source is guaranteed non-GE.
In addition to consumers, the GE issue affects all farmers, so why do
farmers use GE seed? In part, because it was given to them by seed
manufacturers who promised farmers that GE seed would be resistant to a
variety of substances, including weed herbicide. But then Mother Nature
can create a weed to which the GE seed isn't resistant, and farmers are
now back at square one.
GE seed will contaminate a non-GE crop - that is a fact. So who is going
to pay for the cross-contamination? No one has answered this question
yet. Certainly no insurance company is going to insure it. Will the
State of Vermont pay for it? The taxpayers? Farmers are taxpayers, and
if there is one single thing all farmers want, it's lower taxes.
Conventional (non-GE) and organic farmers will bear the cost of
ontamination because they will not be able to sell their crops as
GE-free. Who is going to compensate them?
From what I can find out about Commissioner Kerr's background, he has
never farmed nor has he owned a business (I asked his office for his
resume four weeks ago and never received it.). Why is he the
commissioner of Agriculture? I think we may have two problems here: The
GE issue, and a commissioner whose job history may not qualify him to be
the commissioner of agriculture.
Annie Christopher is co-owner of Annie's Naturals on Foster Hill Road in North Calais.