GMO labeling is definitely a hot topic in the industry. Several states have passed or are trying to pass mandatory labeling laws, and many are pushing for a national standard. On the other side, many prefer only voluntary labeling, saying there is still no scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful.
The debate took a new step on Feb. 19 when Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas released draft legislation that would crate a voluntary labeling standard for GMOs across the country, effectively blocking state-by-state mandatory labeling, reported San Diego Union-Tribune. Numerous industry organizations supported the bill, saying it would help avoid the confusing patchwork of state-by-state laws. The following groups released statements:
- The Grocery Manufacturers Association: "We thank Senator Roberts for introducing this proposal and for his continued leadership to resolve an issue vitally important to people across the country. This common-sense solution will provide consumers with more information about ingredients in their food and beverage products and prevent a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates."
- Food Marketing Institute: "We are very pleased that Chairman Roberts has scheduled a markup on legislation that meets an urgent need to avoid the inevitable chaos the food industry faces if left without a federal government-created standard definition that eliminates multiple state approaches. Without immediate action, costs in the supply chain will escalate rapidly and once the resources are expended, consumer costs will inevitably rise."
- The National Grocers Association: "NGA and its members believe consumers should have clear and consistent information to make informed buying decisions, which is why NGA supports a uniform and voluntary standard, regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to ensure that GMO labeling of food products is consistent and transparent to consumers nationwide. We applaud Chairman Roberts for his efforts to implement a federal legislative solution."
- Snack Food Association: "The introduction of the Roberts Proposal is encouraging. Absent a federal solution, manufacturers would have essentially three options in order to comply with state labeling laws – redesign packaging, reformulate products, or halt sales to that state. Each option is difficult, costly, time-intensive, and at worst, could eliminate jobs and consumer choice in the marketplace."
Other groups also claim mandatory GMO labeling will significantly raise costs for consumers. An economic study by John Dunham and Associates and commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association found that Americans will spend about $1,050 more every year on groceries because of Vermont's mandatory labeling law. The study claims the cost of new labeling systems and switching to more expensive non-GMO ingredients will raise food prices almost 2% in the first year. It argues that GMO labels will be viewed as warnings by consumers, forcing food companies to switch to non-GMO ingredients. It says at a minimum, the Vermont law will cost U.S. consumers about $3.8 billion.
Those in support of mandatory GMO labeling believe consumers' rights are being jeopardized if they do not know what's in their food. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the national labeling campaign Just Label It, made the following statement about Senator Roberts' proposed voluntary labeling law: "Allowing food companies to make voluntary disclosures will simply perpetuate the status quo that has left consumers in the dark. ...[F]ood leaders like Campbells have shown that mandatory GMO labeling will not increase food prices. As the Senate Committee on Agriculture considers the DARK Act, we reiterate our support for a strong mandatory, national GMO labeling system that gives American consumers the same rights as consumers in 64 nations."
The issue is obviously not black or white, as there are a lot of factors to consider. Do you think companies that label their products for GMO ingredients will lose customers due to higher prices, or gain customers who feel they have a right to know?