At first blush the concern over Vermont’s law to force labeling of foods made with biotech crops, or GMOs, seems absurd or even comical. How could a law about a small label in such a tiny state have that much of an impact on America’s entire food and agriculture system?

Trust me, this is no joke.

Vermont’s GMO labeling law, along with others that are sure to follow from other states, could end up having a profound, and extremely negative, impact on Iowa agriculture.

Food companies, such as Campbell’s Soup, General Mills and Mars, have already announced that they will add labels to products made with biotech crops to comply with the Vermont law. It’s a good bet that other food makers will either add labels, while others will reformulate their products to avoid GMO crops.

All of this will add to consumer concern about biotech crops, even though the technology has been declared safe by the Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies. Exports would also suffer as consumers in other countries, already suspicious of technology, turn their noses up at biotech crops.

For Iowa farmers, the stakes in this battle are extremely high. Many of today’s transformative biotech technologies, such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance could be lost.

That would be extremely bad for farmers and consumers, who will probably see their food bill jump. It would also be terrible for the environment because biotech crops have been instrumental in helping farmers reduce pesticide use and adopt conservation tillage.

And you can probably say goodbye to future biotech products, which promise to have even more benefits than the current class.

Fight for the future

Andrew Walmsley of the Amer­ican Farm Bureau Federation put it well when he spoke last week to Iowa Farm Bureau members who were lobbying their legislators in Washington, D.C. "This is really a fight for the future of ag innovation and, we can’t lose it," he said.

Yes, it’s just a little label required by a little state. But Vermont’s mandatory labeling law, if imposed, will likely have big and very bad consequences.

That’s why it’s so important for Farm Bureau members to keep the pressure on Congress to stop mandatory labeling in Vermont and other states, and instead pass a sensible voluntary labeling plan.