GMO Labeling sits front and center this week for the House Agriculture Committee, as on Tuesday March 24th they held a hearing about the impact of GMO labeling on food prices. It’s a perfect start to the GMO Controversy Blog, as it’s quite easy to find two distinct viewpoints on the proposed federal “labeling” initiative that the hearing was to address. I put “labeling” in quotes because, whether you’re for or against GMO Labeling, the initiative essentially means there will be NO labeling – so a more accurate assessment would be the NO GMO LABELING initiative!
When so many other countries around the world already label, this topic seems a bit blown out of proportion to me. I understand why the food entities are seeking federal level legislation – because that will prevent patchwork policies across the country – but to push for what amounts to zero labeling makes the whole concept seem hollow – especially if the study mentioned in the EWG’s article below is indeed factual. From what I’ve seen regarding labeling other countries, I would be extremely shocked if the Cornell study mentioned holds any water, at least not to such a high dollar estimate.
Once again, we see two very different sides telling us what “the truth” is. And as always, over time, our job here at The Walk a Mile Project is to uncover if one of those is indeed true, or if the elusive truth instead sits somewhere in the middle.
An excerpt from “I think we will all agree” on GMO labeling is wishful thinking, for now
— “The Packer”
“Biotechnology is an essential tool for farmers to have in the toolbox if we plan to feed an estimated 10 billion people by the year 2050 in an environmentally sound, sustainable, and affordable way. Unfortunately, threats exist to our ability to fully utilize this technology in the form of proposed Federal and State laws, as well as some State laws that will soon implemented if we don’t act.A recent report by the Cornell Business School examined the consumer cost impact of a proposed mandatory label for biotech food products sold in the state of New York. According to the study, implementing a mandatory biotech labelling system in the state would mean new costs for consumers in the checkout aisle. The report finds that a family of four in New York State could pay, on average, an additional $500 in annual food costs if mandatory labeling becomes law. The state would also incur an estimated $1.6 million in costs from writing and enforcing new regulations and litigating potential lawsuits related to mandatory labeling, which could run as high as $8 million and will also factor into the increased costs consumers see in their annual food bills. What this report does not reflect is the significant cost to food manufacturers associated with segregation and testing that will be passed back to producers; nor does it address liability costs borne by food producers and processors under the activist scheme.As of today 26 states have some form of biotech labeling legislation pending. These proposals are loaded with arbitrary and inconsistent policies which would create an unmanageable situation for food producers, processors and distributors.Consumers would ultimately lose as a result both of higher food costs and the very real likelihood that the technological innovation that has filled our grocery stores with an abundance of high quality products we enjoy would be stifled. As we examine the costs and impacts if States like Vermont move forward with mandatory labelling schemes, I think we will all agree that Congressional action to preserve interstate commerce through national uniformity is necessary.”
An excerpt from GMO Labeling Will Not Increase Food Prices
— Environmental Working Group
Several witnesses will raise their hands and give sworn testimony that a simple disclosure on the back of a package that food made with genetically modified ingredients will raise food prices.
All of them will be wrong.
Here’s the truth: changing labels has no impact on the price of food. Food companies change their labels all the time to highlight innovations or make new claims. Remember when General Mills changed the Cheerios box to share the good news that its iconic cereal was GMO-free? Did the price change? No.
Here’s another dose of reality: Shoppers do not read everything on the box, can or bottle. As my colleague Mike Lavender recently noted, shoppers tend to look for certain attributes – like calories or the presence of fiber – and disregard the rest. So while some consumers will look for the GMO disclosure, many more will not.
Another fact: Even if consumers are aware of the presence of GMOs, relatively few will reject their GMO food in favor of organic or non-GMO options. Disclosure is not the same as disparagement. Consumers in Brazil have had GMO labels since 2001, but less than one percent of Brazilian food sales are organic.
Hard truth: Some witnesses are expected to testify that farmers and food processors will have to create an expensive new system to separate GMO and non-GMO crops. This is simply false — the supply chain already separates GMO and non-GMO foods.
Final lesson: Retail food prices are driven by many factors, including shopper demographics. Wholesale food prices are driven by ingredients, labor and energy costs, not the cost of label changes.