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Capital Chatter: Farm groups back new GMO bill

ST. PAUL -- Farm organizations are happy that the U.S. Senate may be about to pass a bill taking away states' rights to demand that food labels tell consumers if the item has been genetically modified.

ST. PAUL -- Farm organizations are happy that the U.S. Senate may be about to pass a bill taking away states' rights to demand that food labels tell consumers if the item has been genetically modified.

A bill could be in front of senators as soon as they return from the July 4 holiday break leaving all such labeling decisions up to the federal government. It would preempt attempts such as a Vermont law that hit the books on Friday that require most food products containing genetically modified organisms to be so labeled.

The bill would give food companies three options: print labels on food products, place a symbol on packaging indicating it contains modified products or print an electronic code that consumers could scan with smart phones to see if GMOs are in the food.

"The bill is a bipartisan compromise," President Kevin Paap of the Minnesota Farm Bureau said. "It protects interstate commerce and supports new technologies to help feed the growing world population. There is no public health or scientific justification for the (Vermont) bill’s mandatory disclosure provisions, but the national uniformity established by this legislative package is essential."

GMOs are controversial. Farm leaders like Papp point out that there is no evidence that genetically modifying seeds, for instance, has any potential to hurt people. On the other hand, some people say there is not enough evidence to rule out harm.

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Seeds are modified for several reasons, such as making a soybean plant impervious to weed killers. Using such as seed means farmers can plant the modified bean seeds, but when they apply herbicides the soybean plant is not harmed.

AgriGrowth Executive Director Perry Aasness said his group supports the bill, too. "Biotechnology in agriculture has provided numerous benefits, including increased crop yields, decreased use of pesticides and it is absolutely safe for consumers."

Officials of Minnesota's sugar beet industry fear that if laws such as in Vermont require GMO labeling, food companies will be scared away from GMO crops and opt for cane sugar, which is not genetically modified. Sugar beets are a main economic force in much of western Minnesota.

Politico, which covers the federal government, reports that Nestle quietly began labeling its food packages after Vermont passed its law.

"We started labeling, but we’ve had no feedback from consumers," Nestle Chairman and CEO Paul Grimwood said, although he added that it is too early to know if sales have been affected.

If Congress passes its GMO bill, Grimwood said that he does not know if Nestle will remove its labels.

2 Minnesotans for veep?

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been on a lot of lists: U.S. Supreme Court justice, governor, U.S. attorney general, president, vice president.

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So far, at least, she has not been picked. Several observers of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign say there is a chance that could change when the presidential candidate picks her running mate.

But wait. Minnesota's other senator also is being discussed as a potential running mate.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken contributed to the rumors when he told The Associated Press: "If Hillary Clinton came to me and said, 'Al, I really need you to be my vice president, to run with me,' I would say 'yes,' but I'm very happy in the job that I have right now."

Franken credits a last-minute Clinton visit to Duluth for giving him a 312-vote recount-lengthened 2008 victory over incumbent Norm Coleman.

His name recently has popped up on a lot of websites as a potential Clinton partner. But he denies being vetted by the campaign.

In a national Bloomberg Politics poll a couple of weeks ago, 7 percent backed Franken. The winner was U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts with 35 percent.

Klobuchar long has been discussed as a veep possibility, but did not appear on the Bloomberg poll.

Washington Post political pundit Chris Cillizza has made her his No. 5 Clinton pick, calling her a dark-horse candidate. "She has been an active surrogate for Clinton, has clear ambition beyond the Senate and hails from the Midwest, which will be the central battleground of this election."

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Dayton goes with diversity

Gov. Mark Dayton says that an excellent judge or justice is his first factor in deciding who to appoint to the court, but he makes it clear that diversity also is important.

On the Supreme Court, his appointments now make a female majority.

He appointed two blacks to the high court, although once since has moved on to the federal courts. He picked Margaret Chutich to be the state's first openly gay justice. And he named Minnesota's first American Indian to the court in Anne McKeig.

Call it 'Minnesota State'

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees decided the state-run higher education system should be known as Minnesota State.

“MnSCU” is not a good name to market, but "Minnesota State" should be, the board decided.

"Research has shown that the vast majority of Minnesotans -- including prospective students, parents and community leaders -- don’t know what ‘MnSCU’ means or how our state colleges and universities are different from other higher education institutions," Board Chairman Michael Vekich said. "The Board of Trustees has made presenting a clearer identity a priority. It is critical for any organization to build awareness and understanding with it key constituents."

Some of its nearly 40 institutions already have names that start with "Minnesota State:" Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical, Red Wing, Winona; Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead, Wadena; Minnesota State University Moorhead; and Minnesota State University, Mankato.

 

Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at http://capitolchat.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.

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