POTENTIAL COSTS OF GMO LABELING: A CORNELL UNIVERSITY STUDY'S FINDINGS
If a product contains an ingredient that is safe, why do we need a label that identifies it?
That is the question we must ask ourselves when considering the debate over GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. Generally speaking, the medical and scientific communities, including such reputable entities as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), agree that GMOs are a valuable and safe source for our world’s food supply.
Despite these ringing endorsements, the general public still isn’t sold. They remain skeptical of its health qualities. The emotion of fear plays a primary role in this concern. There is a large discrepancy between those in the public and scientists who we would normally trust on health issues. In fact, one such study by the Pew Research Center, released in early 2015, found a 51 percentage point gap between U.S. adults (37%) and AAAS scientists (88%) when asked if genetically modified foods were safe to consume.
Much of this confusion and fear is perpetuated by anti-GMO groups, who have leveraged unsubstantiated public health concerns in their favor. And being that they are unlikely to achieve outright bans on biotechnology in the future, their next best course of action is to pursue labeling requirements on any product containing genetically modified organisms.
Think about it. If you wanted to fight GMOs, you’d call into question their safety, and what better way to do that than by slapping a label on them that implies they are detrimental to one’s health and thus deserving of such a distinction.
We like to think of it as a Catch-22: Consumers believe that if the agriculture group or the food industry fights against labeling laws, they must have something to hide. But as soon as the they’re forced to label genetically modified foods, the public believes that the label is necessary to distinguish bad from good.
We find ourselves at a crossroads of reasonability. The decisions we make in the coming years will have a vast impact on our future ability to feed ourselves and the rest of the world. Our government is forced to take action.
In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. It directly addresses the need to avoid a “patchwork of laws around the country (that) would be expensive for companies and confusing for consumers.” This legislation, if it makes its way through the Senate as well, would invalidate state labeling laws such as Vermont’s (which goes into effect next July) and similar proposals considered by other states by creating a national labeling standard that would allow companies to certify foods that do not contain GMOs through a label if they so choose.
The Senate’s Agriculture Committee is currently considering what action to take on this issue.
The primary objective of a national labeling standard, as we just mentioned, would be to avoid the costs associated with GMO label requirements. To understand this situation, we must first know what those costs would be.
One 2014 study included some key findings on potential costs of GMO labeling to our nation’s families. Cornell University professor William Lesser used consumer surveys to examine the demand for products containing GMO ingredients, and he found that in New York, a family of four could see their grocery bill increase by almost $500 per year from GMO labeling requirements.
He determined that these hypothetical requirements would force companies to avoid using GMO ingredients in their products in order to remain competitive. This creates issues for the food producers, who would see costs go up in order to meet these demands. Ingredients without GMOs would be more expensive, and those increased costs to the food companies would undoubtedly be passed on to consumers.
When you force the consumer’s hand, especially those who don’t belong to the “Food Elite”, the consumer will look for another, cheaper option. That cheaper option may be at a detriment to the family’s overall health because it may not meet each individual’s nutritional needs. So, in theory, by adding labels to GMO products in order to address health concerns, we may actually negatively contribute to our actual health.
Each city, state, and region would be affected differently by GMO labeling. Some would feel little financial sting, others could experience great financial hardship because of it. The point of the study is to highlight the economic issues with such requirements.
Claire Parker, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, summarizes this issue:
“American families deserve safe, abundant and affordable food. GMOs have been used in our food supply for more than 20 years and no study has ever shown them to be unsafe or different from foods without GMOs. Repeated studies, however, have shown that the high cost of mandatory labeling would dramatically increase the price of groceries at the checkout aisle for consumers. A mandatory GMO label will just make it more difficult and expensive for hard-working American families to put food on the table.”Bill Zimmerman of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, echoed that sentiment in May of 2014:
"The bottom line is that food costs will increase dramatically as a result of this mandatory labeling bill. This new study from Cornell illustrates how this legislation, if passed would directly impact those least able to afford it."Biotechnology and genetically modified organisms have already allowed us to accomplish great things in the fight against world hunger. With GMOs as a valuable tool, American farmers can grow the world’s most bountiful, nutritious, and safe food supply. The protection of that food supply and its affordability should be of utmost importance.
We continually advocate that Americans should let science, not fear, dictate our GMO labeling laws because we can trust science; it is measurable. Emotion, on the other hand, can be a dangerous weapon against common sense and we must battle against it negative effects.
The costs of GMO labeling are real, and they will be felt by Americans across the country unless we begin trusting science, not labels, to help us figure out the blueprint to nutritional success.