In terms of economics, the researchers project that mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods would increase US food costs. Just how much food prices might rise would depend on how food manufacturers and retailers respond to mandatory labeling. (Credit: iStockphoto)

biotechnology

Mandate GMO labels? Scientists say ‘no’

There is no scientific reason the US government should mandate special labeling on genetically modified foods, researchers say in a new paper.

The report comes on the heels of the April 23 passage by the Vermont legislature of a bill that would make that state the first to mandate labeling of “GMO” on genetically engineered foods.

“Mandating process-based food labeling is a very complex topic with nuanced marketing, economic, and trade implications depending upon how the labeling laws are written and how the market responds,” says lead author Alison Van Eenennaam, a geneticist and specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology at University of California, Davis.

Noting that such labeling would be based not on differences in the content of the crop or food product but on the way it is produced, Van Eenennaam and coauthors conclude there is no reason to single out GMO foods for mandatory process-based labeling.

Voluntary labeling programs, such as the Non-GMO Project, motivated by market influences rather than government regulation, currently provide interested consumers with the choice to select non-genetically engineered foods in the United States.

State-based labeling laws may run into legal challenges related to interstate commerce, international trade, federal authority over food labeling, and First Amendment protection of “commercial speech,” researchers say.

Boost in food costs?

In terms of economics, the researchers project that mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods would increase US food costs. Just how much food prices might rise would depend on how food manufacturers and retailers respond to mandatory labeling.

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The impact on food prices would be substantial if food processors decide to switch to non-GMO ingredients to avoid labeling requirements, as has been the case in other countries following the introduction of mandatory GE labeling. The cost increases would be less if processors instead opt to label all of their food products as containing genetically engineered ingredients.

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technologies (CAST) paper calls for more independent, objective information to be provided to consumers and legislators on the scientific issues, legal ramifications, and economic consequences of mandatory labeling, especially in states that now have labeling initiatives on the ballot.

“This would help to move the national discussion on mandatory GE labeling from contentious claims and counterclaims to a more fact-based and informed dialogue,” Van Eenennaam says.

Other coauthors are from University of Illinois, University of Missouri, and Global Environmental Ethics Counsel, LLC.

Source: UC Davis

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