When I’m reading reading, researching, and having discussions about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) it seems as though the end point of these discussions is that people opposed to biotechnology want their food labeled. “We have a right to know!” they state. GMO labeling is a valid point to address, and one that a lot of people in my online ‘mommy blogger’ community are concerned about. After all, isn’t it usually us moms who buy the food at the grocery store and cook it for our families? When I do reach this point of discussion about GMOs, we get into “if GMO’s are safe then why are companies afraid to have them labeled?” or “if Monsanto didn’t have anything to hide they would proudly put a label on their product.” The thing I always tell people in my conversations is that personally, I do not support GMO labeling of foods because of all the misinformation and fear that is out there.
A label, to me, would imply that something is wrong with the product. And simply? There is nothing wrong with GM food, as I have discovered. Since GM foods do not pose a health-risk, they do not need to be labeled. We have worldwide scientific consensus telling us that GMOs are safe, but as I said in my previous article no food – GM, conventional, or organic can ever be 100% safe. So why put a label on it? Actually…there is a label. It’s called USDA Organic, CDA Organic, and there is even a Non-GMO Project Verified label on some products now. But? Apparently that’s not enough. The most important factor with GMO labeling is that mandatory labels should be reserved for products that carry a documented health risk, such as allergens, or in cases where products represent a substantive change in nutritional composition and GM foods do not. This would go against current FDA regulations.
How Much Will GMO Labeling Cost?
There’s a very loud movement going on for GMO labeling, especially with voting on I-522 approaching in November in Washington state. So how much would it cost consumers? The government? The farmers? Everyone will pay a price, as Scientific American explains: “Conventional and organic crops often require more water and pesticides [yes, organic uses pesticides too, often more] than GE crops do, the former are usually more expensive. Consequently, we would all have to pay a premium on non-GMO foods [much like organic foods]—and for a questionable return. Private researchers estimated that Prop 37 would have increased an average California family’s yearly food bill by as much as $400. This would have also have mandated farmers, manufacturers, and retailers to keep a whole new set of detailed records and to prepare for lawsuits challenging the ‘naturalness’ of their products.” Bill points this same thing out in his article that the law could “lead to unnecessary legal actions at the expense of taxpayers and consumers”. Can anyone else smell the lawsuits?
Dr. Ryan explains in her recent article that:
The agricultural and food production value chain is long and complex and includes many private and public sector actors: research labs, seed companies, farmers, elevator/managers, grain handlers, transport companies, importers and exporters, processors, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants. If mandatory labeling of GMOs were enacted, costs (identity preservation, administrative and other) would be incurred all along the value chain. Make no mistake – those costs will be passed along to the consumer.
Unfortunately I think the millions of dollars being spent on the push for GMO labeling has the hidden agenda of killing the technology, and it’s not because they want “the right to know”. It is highly politicized. Most of the environmental activists who are opposed to GM foods strongly support mandatory labeling policies. Why would they do so if they knew that it would secure a place for GM food at the grocery stores? Funny enough, these groups may be using mandatory labeling as a type of Trojan horse: they support mandatory labeling for the sake of consumer choice, knowing full well that this policy will lead to no choice in practice. Moreover, even if there are some products that are labeled as a result, the products can be easily targeted by the activists. In Europe GM foods have actually been taken off of grocery shelves because of this very thing.
The cost of GMO labeling involves far more than adding a sticker to the food. I would be more in favor of voluntary GMO labeling. It would allow everyone to choose product quality much like a voting system with proportional representation, where a part of the market may buy non-GM food, and the others will buy mixed conventional and GM food without the potential to ban safe products.
They Label in Other Countries, Why Not Here?Yes, other countries label GM foods and have even banned GE crops, but just because some of these countries operate on the precautionary principal does not make it right or the only way. It is actually thought that the proposed required labels would actually reduce consumers’ choices, as I just mentioned above, and as this article explains:
Britain’s labeling law, touted early on by a senior regulator as ‘a question of choice, of consumer choice,’ has had the opposite effect. Consumers naturally think that government mandated labels signal a cause for concern, so food producers, retailers and restaurant chains in Britain quickly rid their products of genetically engineered ingredients to avoid having to put ‘warning’ labels on their foods.
It has also not resulted in consumer choice, quite the contrary! Retailers have eliminated GE products from their shelves due to perceived consumer fear and aversion to GMO products. Perhaps a more simple way of understanding why policies have changed in other countries is this:
Because it is demanded from emotion, not because of evidence. We should not make binding public policy decisions based on fear, we should make them based on science. – Kevin Folta
The precautionary principle is also irresponsible because it is used as a means to stop something — be it a substance, a practice, or (in this case) a technology. It can trick us into thinking we have “saved” ourselves from potential outcomes when we haven’t. The precautionary principle furthermore encourages dodging responsibility for the present situation. When people want to block change, using emotion and fear of unknown consequences, they rarely assume responsibility for the ramifications of current problems. Leading off that, if you want to halt biotechnology, which is the big picture here or the “hidden agenda”, what is your solution? How are you going to feed the world? And no, I don’t believe GMO’s are the sole answer to that question…but I do believe it plays a big role. Again I wonder: all these people in favor of GMO labeling…do they even know what a GMO is? Or the science of how genes are altered in our food?
As I keep saying, all these organizations have made statements that GMOs are safe, but the anti-GMO movement doesn’t trust the government. Yet ironically, they’re going to go to the government to require a label on their product. It all seems quite contradictory to their belief. GMO labeling is fueled by fear and distrust of corporations and the government – it would be deceptive. That’s what the labeling is about. Bans and labels cost money, time, and resources. That’s not how I want my tax dollars spent. You?
Must EVERYTHING Be Labeled?
This could be another blog post in itself, but there are already so many misleading labels in the grocery store as it is that are completely unnecessary and are a marketing scheme. They buy into consumers’ fears and the buzz topics of today. An example, you ask? Gluten free. It would seem as though EVERYONE wants to be gluten free these days, even when only about 1% of the population actually has Celiac disease. I’ve seen bloggers promoting gluten free fruit salad. Since when is there ever any gluten in fruit anyway? Another example is high fructose corn syrup free peanut butter….when no peanut butter even contains that!
Federal regulation requires that food labels be truthful and not misleading and prohibits label statements that could be misunderstood, even if they are strictly accurate. For example, although a “cholesterol-free” label on a certain variety or batch of fresh spinach would be accurate, it transgresses the FDA’s rules because it could be interpreted as implying that spinach usually contains cholesterol, which it does not. – Henry Miller
Despite this huge push for mandatory labeling of GM foods, the FDA’s science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling without evidence of material differences between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts. How many times must it be said that there is no evidence that GMOs are unsafe? And as far as labeling, I quote from Mr. Miller again “Federal regulation requires that food labels be truthful and not misleading“…where do we draw the line? Should the arsenic be more visibly labeled on apple juice? Should we know the parts per million of feces in each organic product? Good grief, WATER can kill you if you drink too much of it. Why isn’t there a label on the water in the grocery store warning you not to drink too much?
Transgenic/GM food is just made differently. It is a technology, not a product or an ingredient. It is not nutritionally different for better or for worse. Do you care if your books were written on a typewriter vs a computer? It’s still the same book. Still the same content, just produced differently — it’s not “good or bad”. So as the end of that video (if you clicked the previous link) poses — which variety or gene are you concerned about in GM foods? What specifically do you want labeled?
As I keep saying like a broken record, the scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe, keeping in mind that nothing can ever be proven to be 100% safe. Over 3 trillion meals have been served worldwide with no evidence of harm. So in my opinion…why label them?
Byrne, P., Pendell, D., & Graff, G. Labeling of Genetically modified Foods
Conko, G & Miller, H. Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods is a Losing Proposition
Cooper, J. Thwarting Consumer Choice: A Book Review
English, C. GMO Foods: Why We Shouldn’t Label (Or Worry About) Genetically modified Products
Entine, J. GLP Infographic: Is labeling GMOs really about our “Right to Know”?
Entine, J. Infographic: International science organizations on crop biotechnology safety
GMO Answers If you are claiming that GMOs are supposedly safe than why won’t you label food? What are you hiding?
GMO Answers Why are companies against GMO labeling foods?
Johnson, N. Who’s paying for GMO-labeling initiative campaigns?
Price, B. Analysis of Washington State GMO-labeling initiative I-522
Ryan, C. What’s in a GMO Label?
Savage, S. GMO Food Is Actually Already Labeled If You Know a Few Rules
Schmidt, J. The Cost of GMO Labeling
Senapathy, K. Anti-GMO “Right to Know” movement cashing in on scaring and confusing consumers
Zaluckyj, A. 1 Trillion Meals Later: The GMO Safety Debate is Over
Zaluckyj, A. USDA Creates a GMO Label – Here’s What You Need to Know