So, just what are the advantages and disadvantages of GMO labeling?
To recap, we know that GMOs themselves have advantages and disadvantages:
- potential less use of pesticides
- increased food production in poor countries
- perhaps lower food prices
- potential for increased vitamins & minerals
- increased disease resistance
- increased shelf life
- removal of certain allergens
- less need for water
- no long term studies, so potential for food safety issues & unknown health risks
- the ability for large corporations to patent food source
- potential for new allergens
- risk of antibiotic resistance
- potential increase in use of pesticides (because of the resistance)
- potential for unknown toxins
- unknown potential harm to the environment and animal/insect species
- potential for toxicity with an over ingestion of certain vitamins and minerals
Given these issues, labeling seems the natural thing to do. And polls show that a large majority of the public wants to see labeling. And yet, states are having a hard time passing labeling laws.
Most countries that have labeling laws are national with a national standard. The US is trying to pass laws regionally because the FDA states that GMO foods are, in essence, the same as non-GMO foods and therefore, need not be regulated separately. This dictate leaves states no choice but to act on their own.
Enter the problems. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of GMO labeling:
- Labeling gives the public information about what they are buying and consuming. The “right to know” extends to this “food processing attribute”.
- Consumers could make more informed buying decisions
- It might encourage more companies to use non-GMO ingredients so they would not have to label. This has been shown to be the case in at least six-ten other countries where labeling is mandatory.
- Groceries will probably cost more as the manufacturers will have to pour a lot of money into testing and segregation. Labels would have to be remade and, more than likely would have to be generic across state lines.
- Smaller food producers and specialty food producers would feel the cost burden much more and, if they are able to continue doing business, the products would bear a greater cost – and the consumer might not be able to afford products from smaller food producers.
- States, farmers and food producers could be tied up in expensive litigation.
- Having state laws and not using a national standard could create more confusion in the public’s mind. In some cases, the consumer could be deceived into thinking a food doesn’t contain GMOs, when in fact it does. For example: a small food producer in Vermont is required to label. Since they can not afford to have labels for one state and a different label for another state, all the products are labeled. That product is then sold on a shelf in a state without labeling laws. The product next to it comes from a large company that can afford to have separate labels for labeled stated and unlabeled law states. The consumer looking at the two products would be deceived into thinking the product without the label does not contain GMOs.
Regardless, Vermont has now passed a labeling law. Smartly, the law establishes a defense fund to defect against potential lawsuits. And there is a whopper out there – a lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Foods Association. Even Ben & Jerry’s is getting in the fray helping to raise funds for the defense of the law – a renamed ice cream, “Food Fight – Fudge Brownie” shows a box on the front of the ice cream that reads “Food Fight Fund”. $1 of each pint sold will go to the fund.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell has filed a brief defending the new law and asking the lawsuit be thrown out.
The lawsuit claims that the labeling law exceeds state authority and violates food manufacturer’s right to free speech to not label something they don’t feel necessary. Defense of the law need only look to NY and the recent upheld law requiring calorie content be listed on chain restaurant food.
Either way, we should all get ready. Whether it happens today or several years from now, labeling is probably coming to a state near you!