By Analiese Paik
Labeling GMOs and teaching consumers how to avoid them when shopping and eating out are critical to reducing demand for foods containing GMOs. Yet it’s not enough. Farmers are constantly being marketed GM seed to grow feed for livestock, feed which winds up on Connecticut farms. I’m told by farmers that the price of organic feed is prohibitively expensive – neither the consumer nor the wholesale customer is willing to pay $2 more a bird, for example. But would they pay 50 cents more for Non-GMO?
Organic farmer and Non-GMO advocate Bob Burns of Aiki Farms in Ledyard, CT thinks it’s high time our state’s farmers are given a fair priced, sustainable alternative to GM feed, and he’s doing something about it. He’s organized a Farmer, Mill and Consumer Alliance event where a panel of experts will discuss reconnecting farmers with their customers – that’s us – who want Non-GMO local product and examine ways to take back control of the feed supply.
- Can our farms grow Non-GMO grain and mill it locally?
- Are there grants and incentives in place to help farmers transition their fields to Non-GMO?
- Have superweeds become a problem in our state’s GM corn fields and is that incentive enough for farmers to switch?
- During the transition, can we truck in Non-GMO grain at a fair price and is there a facility that will store it?
These questions and viable solutions will be discussed by 8 panelists including Professor Ron Rainey, spokesman for the Non-GMO Arkansas movement, which has successfully converted thousands of acres of GM corn and soy fields to Non-GMO according to Burns. Panelist Bill Duesing, president of the NOFA Interstate Council and former Executive Director of CT-NOFA, is an organic farmer and author eminently qualified to discuss the costs and benefits associated with sustainable agriculture (NOFA member farms can be organic, IPM and Non-GMO) and importance of building food security in our state.
I’m pleased to be a part of the panel discussion where I’ll represent the local-sustainable Connecticut consumer. This is a crucial time for our farmers and The Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development to hear from consumers who want Non-GMO CT Grown produce, fruit, dairy, meat and poultry. This 15-member appointed council is responsible for creating a holistic strategic plan to Grow Connecticut Farms. According to a press release, the Council is tasked with making the following recommendations to the Department of Agriculture:
- How to increase the percentage of consumer dollars spent on Connecticut Grown fresh produce and farm products, including, but not limited to, ways to increase the amount of money spent by residents of the state on locally grown farm products by 2020, to not less than five per cent of all money spent by such residents on food.
- Make recommendations concerning the development, diversification and promotion of agricultural products, programs, and enterprises in this state and shall provide for an interchange of ideas from the various commodity groups and organizations represented.
When the Council polled stakeholders – farmers and other producers – the #1 opportunity to be considered in developing the strategic plan was market demand. And the #1 obstacle to success was input costs. Consumers weren’t polled to ask what was deterring us from buying CT Grown. Let’s tell them we want more organic and Non-GMO food!
How to Attain the Goal of 5 Percent of Family Food Spending on CT Grown
I would gladly spend more money on CT Grown if I knew with certainty that the dairy cows and livestock weren’t being fed GMOs (if Squash Hollow can do it, why not more farms?), the sweet corn was Non-GMO, along with the zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. And I already pay more for organic vegetables from my local farmer through a CSA program, but I do so with glee. I know how hard they work and how many crops they lose to disease and infestation, and they should be rewarded for their commitment to organic production despite all the inherent risks.
What about you? Would you pay a premium for local organic (or Non-GMO) food? Think about the organic milk, eggs, yogurt, ice cream and cheese you buy at retail and what that costs. Plus the organic chicken and meats. Would you replace them with local organic if it were available?