GMO labeling of food completely unnecessary

Ryan Yonk and Jadyn Naylor

On July 1, Vermont’s mandatory labeling law for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will go into effect. When polled, 89 percent American voters express support for laws like Vermont’s, but that support is misguided and driven by exaggerated claims from anti-GMO activists. GMO labeling is burdensome, expensive and unnecessary because GMOs are safe, and consumers who want to avoid GMOs can already do so.

Advocates of mandatory GMO labeling claim they are simply fighting for consumers’ right to decide for themselves. This is misleading. Consumers who really care can already “decide for themselves.” Simple instructions on avoiding GMOs are available from many sources, such as Whole Foods Market’s website. And there are at least 10 mobile apps designed to inform consumers on which foods contain GMOs and which do not.

Plus, GMO labels already exist for concerned consumers. The nonprofit Non-GMO Project has begun certifying and labeling foods that contain little to no genetically modified ingredients. The Non-GMO Project’s label is now “the fastest growing label in the natural products industry.”

They’re probably doing a better job at labeling than the FDA or USDA could. A 2010 Inspector General study found that the USDA’s organic certification requirements have been poorly enforced. The same problems would likely arise if the USDA were given control over GMO labeling requirements.

Despite what anti-GMO activists want you to believe, there is no scientific justification for GMO labeling. Eighty-eight percent of scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science agree that GMOs are safe, higher than the percentage of AAAS scientists who think climate change is human-caused.

A paper by the Society of Toxicology summarized that GMO food poses no more risk to humans than conventional food. Humans have been eating genetically modified food for 20 years and there has not been a single report of adverse health effects.

Catering to GMO hysteria with mandatory labeling laws would be expensive for consumers, businesses and taxpayers. Although Consumer Union found the estimated cost of slapping a new label on food products is negligible, James McWilliams, writing for Slate, points out:

“A GMO label ... means that food producers would have to cleave the food system’s supply chain to segregate and audit GMO and non-GMO ingredients. This would require them to prevent cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops, store GMO and non-GMO ingredients in different locations, establish exclusive cleaning and transportation systems for both commodities, and hire contractors to audit storage facilities, processing plants, and final food products.”

All this comes with costs, which will have to be covered by consumers and taxpayers. The biggest cost may come not from implementing the law, but in how the law changes customer’s food preferences. The AAAS Board of Directors has warned that mandatory labeling of GMOs could “falsely alarm consumers.”

Such alarm may push food companies to change their products from GMO to non-GMO. If companies do make this change, the overall effects of GMO labeling could cost American families up to $1,050 per year in higher food prices, according to an impact assessment of Vermont’s labeling law by John Dunham and Associates.

Given the existing options for consumers and lack of credible evidence of the dangers of GMOs, the continuing crusade to mandate costly GMO labeling is puzzling. The American consumer should not have to pay for this hysteria.

Ryan Yonk, an assistant professor of research at Utah State University, is vice president and executive director of research at Strata. Jadyn Naylor is a student research associate at Strata. This has been adapted from InsideSources.