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John Block: GMO Legislation

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Nancy Reagan was laid to rest this week. She was a very elegant First Lady and she was number one on President Reagan’s list – the love of his life and a trusted defender of the President. She was not interested in getting deeply involved in policy issues. However, she was always watching to ensure no one was undercutting her husband.

When I arrived in Washington as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, my highest priority was to encourage President Reagan to lift the Soviet grain embargo imposed by President Carter. After all, President Reagan had promised to lift it during the campaign. The problem was Secretary of State Haig and Defense Secretary Weinberger argued that we should demand something in return for lifting the embargo. At our very first Cabinet meeting, I asked the President to lift it. It was blocking billions of dollars of ag exports to the Soviet Union.

There was no decision that day. Afterwards, I talked to Ed Meese, the closest counselor to the President, to gain his support. At the end of March 1981, President Reagan was shot at the Washington Hilton Hotel. After his recovery, he called me into the Oval Office along with Secretary Haig and he said he was lifting the embargo that day. I was elated. Secretary Haig was very unhappy.

I know there were two people supporting me on the embargo question – not because of defense policy, but simply because the President needed to keep his promise. Those two people, closest to the President, were Ed Meese and Nancy Reagan. May she rest in peace with her Ronnie.

I want to spend a little time on an extremely important issue – GMO foods. The state of Vermont has a law that takes effect July 1 requiring labels on all genetically modified foods. A handful of other states also want some kind of labeling. “The consumers have the right to know.” That’s what they say.

First, we can’t have a patchwork of different labels for every different state. And second, there is no reason to label GE foods. It is deceptive – suggesting there is something wrong with GE foods. Two thousand studies have found GMOs to be as safe as non-GMOs.

Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) is pushing legislation in the Senate to put a stop to the costly state laws which would drive up consumer prices and suggest consumers should avoid GE foods. We should know soon if the legislation can pass.

I conclude with a sentence from a Wall Street Journal editorial. “No agricultural innovation has been more maligned than GMOs, though the technology has proven safe, reliable, affordable, and good for the environment.”

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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