By John Sorbello

As a vegetable and nursery farmer and former dairyman, I strongly believe in the ability of each farmer to choose what is best for the land, their business and their family. However, I wonder if these choices will be taken away by the movement targeting biotechnology.

This is an issue of great concern, whether a farmer grows corn or apples or onions. We live in a society that has benefited greatly from advances in technology. From our hospitals to our homes, science has led to breakthroughs that have changed our lives, and that includes changing how we grow our food. From GPS-guided tractors that reduce tilling to research taking place at Cornell University, science has enabled us to grow more food using less water, less land and fewer pesticides. If the battle against biotechnology is successful, those advances may be fewer and farther between.

We are blessed with a diverse agricultural community in New York. The variety of farms in terms of their size, convention and commodity is vast. Whether a farm chooses to supply food through an organic CSA or to large grocery store chains, each one is filling an important market for their products. Much of this is guided by consumer demand and a farmer’s own set of beliefs. Neither is right or wrong; all farms are important. This is why it bothers me when some people devalue the choices I make on my farm simply because we disagree.

Here is what I know.

Every farmer I meet is an independent thinker who takes great care in the decisions he or she makes for their farm. If we didn’t see the positive results of planting genetically engineered seeds, no farmer would be using them. It isn’t just farmers in this country who see the benefits; attitudes are changing around the world. Just a few months ago, countries such as Great Britain, Spain and Sweden supported a new form of genetically engineered maize that will be grown in Europe.

I’m also confident in the safety of genetically engineered seeds. The food goes through the same rigorous testing process as any drug on the market, except for one difference: The process for food is even longer. The average length of testing is 13 years for the typical biotech seed, compared to 12 years for the average drug.

The science is complex, I admit. That’s why I listen to the experts – highly credible experts such as the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science – when making my farm decisions. These organizations have analyzed hundreds of scientific studies, and they’ve all concluded that foods with biotech-derived ingredients are just as safe as conventional foods.

The use of biotech seeds has also led to a reduction in the use of harsher pesticides. The last EPA pesticide report found pesticide use in agriculture is down from 948 million pounds in 2000 to 877 million pounds in 2007. While we may have seen an increased use of Roundup, this product is far less toxic than other pesticides that were previously used, which is ultimately better for the environment.

On top of it all, the FDA has long been the source of food labeling when it comes to nutrition and safety. However, mandating a label out of fear and not based on science only spreads more confusion among consumers. What would happen if all 50 states each had their own labeling requirements? That would be a costly logistical nightmare for food companies, farmers and taxpayers.

In California, where a majority of voters opposed labeling requirements, estimates were that an average family would see a yearly increase of $400 in food costs. The proposed labeling law in New York would be even more regulated, which means it would be even more costly. I worry that proponents of labeling are looking to scare consumers as opposed to informing them.

The New York Farm Bureau (NYFB) supports the right of every food company and farmer to label food how they see fit. Consumers already have an abundance of choices at the store, a growing list of thousands of food options that are either certified organic or labeled as not containing genetically engineered ingredients. Why not let the market dictate what consumers buy? Again, farmers are intelligent people and will produce what people are interested in purchasing. Do we need the government to play a role in that too?

Finally, the NYFB is leading the way in protecting farms and families. It has joined the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. It seeks a uniform solution on a national level that would establish appropriate standards, advance food safety and inform consumers. The NYFB has existed for more than 100 years, serving as a collective voice for agriculture. Agriculture puts more than $5 billion into our rural economies in New York state alone and is responsible for 200,000 jobs and producing healthy, local food. We should all be working together to support every farmer who’s working hard every day to put food on your table.