GMO labeling: Not without costs

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In 2013, genetically engineered (GE) varieties accounted for 95 percent of sugar beet, 93 percent of soy, and 90 percent of all cotton and corn acreage in the United States, according to a new report from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). Ingredients from GE plants have for years been commonly used in foods around the world. About 70 percent of processed foods in U.S. supermarkets contain some GE ingredients, and yet at least 25 states have considered proposed legislation to require GE labeling of foods.

The report, titled “The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States,” was released this week. The authors use the term genetically engineered or GE in place of the more common term “genetically modified organism” or GMO, noting that conventional breeding methods modify organisms, making the term less accurate.

The task force that developed the report,  led by University of California-Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD., included food scientists, economists, legal scholars and agricultural experts. They examined a range of issues, including public opinions, legal implications of consumer choice and right-to-know and food-safety implications.

Groups in favor of GE labeling generally make their case based on two points: First, that consumers have a right to know what is in their food and how it is produced, and secondly that GE foods could be unsafe.

The report’s authors note the right to know what is in food is different from the right to know how it was produced. Furthermore, this uniquely singles out GE technology – not other production methods and processes – for right to know.

They also note that GE crops are extensively tested, and over the past 20 years, the FDA has found that all 148 transgenic gene/crop combinations evaluated by the agency, including all biotech crops commercialized to date, are equivalent to their conventional counterparts. Japanese regulators independently reached the same conclusions for 189 submissions they reviewed, covering a wide range of plant species and introduced traits.

A handful of widely publicized small studies have claimed to find some adverse health impacts of GE foods on animals, the authors say, but these studies have been retracted and/or severely criticized by government and mainstream scientific organizations as poorly designed and unreliable.

The authors conclude the following:

  1. There is no science-based reason to single out GE foods and feeds for mandatory process-based labeling.
  2. Mandatory labeling based on process abandons the traditional U.S. practice of providing for consumer food preferences through voluntary product differentiation and labeling.
  3. Market-driven voluntary labeling measures are currently providing consumers with non-GE choices.
  4. Mandatory labeling could have negative implications for First Amendment rights and trade issues.
  5. Mandatory labeling will increase food costs.

View the full report from CAST. 

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R Andrew Ohge    
Belmond, IA  |  April, 29, 2014 at 11:49 AM

How Much Will GMO Labeling Cost Consumers? October 8, 2013 More than ninety percent of American consumers want food labels to say whether they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The big food companies have been claiming—in advertising and published articles—that the new labels would cost too much, that they will place an unfair burden on business and raise food prices for consumers. In a new study commissioned by ANH-USA, Joanna M. Shepherd-Bailey, PhD, a professor at the Emory University School of Law, found that the opposite is true. According to her research and calculations, consumer costs will not increase at all because of labeling. Food companies change their packaging all the time, and for most companies, adding a GMO label would happen during a normal package update. In fact, manufacturer costs are so minimal that it would actually cost more for food companies to print new price tags than it would for them to label GMOs! The economic assessment study, which we commissioned, was prepared for Washington State Initiative 522, to address the question of expenses associated with the redesign of package labels and the display of placards in grocery stores. Her analysis shows that there will be no change in consumer food prices as a result of these relabeling expenses... GMO labeling won’t stifle innovation, it won’t cost consumers any money, and it won’t take GMOs off the market. Full Article & Links: consumers/

Missouri  |  May, 05, 2014 at 06:21 AM

Lawyers are not scientists nor marketing experts. Check out the mess they have made of the DC empire and the legal system. All food is genetically modified. The lawyers are simply using this issue to line their pockets.

Alison Van Eenennaam    
Davis  |  April, 29, 2014 at 10:48 PM

Please read the report! In summary "Mandatory GE labeling will increase U.S. food costs. The size of this increase will depend on choices made in the marketplace by suppliers and marketers, and what products are included in labeling requirements. If, as in other places, sellers move to non-GE offerings in response to mandatory labeling, food costs could rise significantly and these increased costs would exact a greater burden on low-income families. If, on the other hand, food suppliers choose to label virtually all products as containing GE without testing or segregation, increases in costs might be minimal." Much depends on how food manufacturers, food retailers, and other food merchants would choose to act if mandatory GE labeling was put in place. On the one hand, they could choose to maintain the current composition of their products, placing GE labels on them when necessary. On the other hand, they could choose to change the composition of their products in order to avoid the use of GE labels. The reactions of food manufacturers and retailers could be shaped by expectations of negative consumer response toward GE labels, targeting of their products by political activists, exploitation of GE labels by competitors, and concern that a mandated label might be mistakenly interpreted by consumers to confer a food safety warning. If manufacturers choose to substitute GE ingredients with non-GE ones to avoid labels, the cost impact of mandatory labeling would be substantial and associated with new product formulation and sourcing non-GE ingredients. It is not a matter of simply putting a new label on a package.

simple life    
pa  |  April, 30, 2014 at 11:39 AM

Your points are excellent and are my big concern. After reading countless studies on biotech foods or products used in agriculture over the last 15+ years, I feel very safe about American produced food supply and have yet to find a good study showing otherwise that has independent peer review endorsement. I do not want to pay more at the grocery store because food manufacturers or retailers decide they have to source more non-GMO ingredients or foods due to consumer demand based on misinformation and fear! That is going to happen if labeling is mandatory. Let it remain voluntary - then fearful consumers can pay more for the "specialty niche" marketed product. I will occassionally pay more to support a local farmer direct marketing their produce or dairy, but have no desire to pay more in the store for a niche market product like organic, r-BST free or non-GMO when there is insignificant or non-existant nutritional, health or environmental benefit!!!

SD  |  April, 30, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Labels themselves will cost no more, however the cost of compliance will. I just signed statements from one of three sale barns to which we sell cattle. These statements are required to assure all cattle are derived from US origins. Someone is being paid to process these affidavits. Think of trying to determine whether a GMO has been involved in the product raised. I'd love to see the poll which 90% of American consumers want GMO labeling. Is that survey sample from their Facebook page. Changes to labels are simple in the event an ingredient is measurable, whether its reformulation of product, or calories or fat or vitamin content, but tracing origins of all raw ingredients becomes exceptionally difficult in that the products come from an unlimited number of sources. To say that compliance with this type of labeling is simple and cheap is misleading. The Anti-GMO mantra is a non-profit moneymaker, more studies, more attention, more elections, more money generated by anti-whatever non profits. If the measure won't affect take GMO's off the market, then its solely a fundraiser for your group. They've learned from the animal rights activists that the consumer has no ties to production agriculture and can be swayed by almost anything. These non-profits are an entire industry. Attract attention to yourself so people will send you money. Do you think ANH-USA is operated by all volunteers because of the nobility of their cause. Its time 501 (c)(3-4) tax exemption be amended to cover only churches and let this ilk at least pay taxes like any other money generating industry. Maybe ANH-USA needs to spend their money on study entitled "How to Feed 9 Billion People on the Same Technology that Fed 3 Billion"

Michelle Zerbib    
Denver  |  April, 30, 2014 at 02:45 PM

Actually, it is exactly just a matter of simply putting a new label on a package. If the GE ingredients are not harmful, then what is the big deal with us knowing what's in the foods? Most of the big food manufacturers only print labels a few months out because they make so many label changes already. GMO Labeling will NOT raise food costs, unless the manufacturers reformulate the products with NON-GMO ingredients!

SD  |  April, 30, 2014 at 07:37 PM

Ms. Zerbib, maybe previous commenters didn't state it clearly enough: the additional costs of labels of either GMO content, or No GMO content, will be costly because of compliance with the government rules. Show us any government regulation that has had NO cost, or NO cost increase in the products requiring that new label. All such changes have to be verified, which requires research and possibly several layers of paperwork proving the information is true. I agree with those who point out the fact that there are reams of peer reviewed research showing NO ill effects from GMO's, and that the insinuations of possible harm are not.

simple life    
pa  |  April, 30, 2014 at 08:07 PM

Ms. Zerbib, please tell me exactly what is "in" a GMO technology food that is or isn't in the same type of food raised or grown that is not GMO or GE technology? How exactly is the food different? And why does the difference require a label?

SD  |  May, 01, 2014 at 11:39 AM

You're not disclosing a change in ingredient which is easy to re-label. You are labeling origins of food products which come from any combination of the US 2.1 million farms(2012 Census of Agriculture). You assume the accountability for assessing production practices from any combination of 2.1 million farms in the US (2012 Census of Agriculture) is effortless. We already have to sign off on the Country of Origin- next it will be GMO or not, then humane practices, you may even need to know how many cows I milk so you can chose whether to buy from a big farm or a little one, maybe you want to know how many days cows are on pasture. Try complying with the rules we have to now; we have too many people who have never raised an animal or grown a kernel of anything creating rules

Tim Gieseke    
New Ulm, MN  |  May, 02, 2014 at 02:14 PM

I am not sure if I follow your logic: If, as in other places, sellers move to non-GE offerings in response to mandatory labeling, food costs could rise significantly and these increased costs would exact a greater burden on low-income families. This would only happen if a demand existed for non-GE, and demand includes preference and price. Who would spend more for something they did not want?

Tim Gieseke    
MN  |  May, 02, 2014 at 02:19 PM

Often, people are beginning to see food as more than food - kind of like voting with your dollars. But I won't be concerned about people spending more money on food for health or other reasons - look around, do you see any apathetic people? Maybe overwieght? When in Rome...

May, 03, 2014 at 02:16 PM

The difference is fear of the unknown or misunderstood. It is fear of a conspiracy of big bad "corporate" ag pulling the wool over the eyes of "uneducated"small farmers and forcing "frankenfood" on our society. It is like the overweight woman with her overweight family telling me she doesn't want anything GMO on her table. When asked why? She answered because 40 years from now, my son might have a gene mutation because of it!??! Meanwhile, her son is hanging outside with friends eating a bag of cheetoes... Apparently there is no fear of health affects of overindulgence....Unfortunately, I was at a loss for a graceful and timely response. This is an example of perception becoming reality in our society. The lines between real science, junk science and science fiction are indeed very blurry.

Missouri  |  May, 05, 2014 at 06:32 AM

Your comments are on target. The opposition is mostly using this issue to feed the anti-technology frenzy while lining their pockets with donations. I have been a life scientist and farmer all my life and have read the scientific literature on the safety of food technology. There is no scientific evidence to suggest this 20 year old technology is unsafe.

upstate NY  |  May, 09, 2014 at 01:46 PM

This is ludicrous. If there is absolutely nothing wrong with gmo foods than why is everyone fighting so hard to block open and transparent marketing? Why was it hidden all of this time. I will spend more if I have to but this is the most ridiculous argument that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I believe that you all protest way too much. Our food products should have been clearly labeled all along. American human beings (yes we are) have been lied to and dumbed down enough over the years, I am certain that just like people who continue to eat junk food and really do not want to know whats in the food that they ingest there will be many that either do not care anymore or can't afford the food to begin with. Stop protesting and label. If it is all as safe as you claim the proof will be in the pudding!

portland  |  May, 10, 2014 at 09:52 PM Read it

Linda Wilson    
Arizona  |  June, 12, 2014 at 08:31 PM

I will pay more for GMO foods even if it means I am hungry all the time.

Linda Wilson    
Arizona  |  June, 12, 2014 at 08:36 PM

So, you want to take away the freedom for the public to know to save you money on your food bill? I'm sure if a choice is available, in time there will be PROOF of whether GMOs are safe. But I don't want to be a guiney pig, thank you very much.

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