Voluntary GMO Labeling Already Provides Choice, Ag Scientists Say

CAST issue paper looks at the pro and con arguments of labeling foods made with genetically modified ingredients

Published on: Apr 29, 2014

A new issue paper released Monday by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology suggests that a mandatory affirmative labeling standard for foods containing genetically modified ingredients could have negative impacts on the economy, First Amendment rights and trade.

The paper comes as a national discussion regarding GMO labeling advances into uncharted territory on the back of a mandatory GMO labeling law close to approval in Vermont and a recently introduced national voluntary labeling bill supported by food and ag organizations.

CAST issue paper looks at the pro and con arguments of labeling foods made with genetically modified ingredients
CAST issue paper looks at the pro and con arguments of labeling foods made with genetically modified ingredients

Paper authors, writing on behalf of CAST, a national coalition of agricultural scientists, suggest a national shift to mandatory labeling of GMOs is not based on science, and labeling based on process "abandons the traditional U.S. practice of providing for consumer food preferences through voluntary product differentiation and labeling."

Related: Congressman Proposes Law to Head Off GMO Labeling

The market-driven voluntary labeling system already in place provides consumers with non-genetically engineered choices in the marketplace, they say.

Common arguments for proponents of GMO labeling include a "right-to-know" what's in food, and a desire for greater choice.

The authors say, however, that mandatory labeling will invoke additional food costs, the extent of which depends on how food suppliers choose to segregate or manage GMO food products.

Related: National GMO Labeling Bill Draws Favorable Reaction

In addition, a mandatory labeling bill could violate First Amendment rights, as current labeling authority is federal. If enacted, state laws could be invalidated for conflicting with federal authority, the paper says.

At the national level, a labeling bill could impact trade, the authors add, as any new regulation would need to be harmonized with international trade agreements that frown on mandatory labeling when there is no tie to food safety.

Aside from the approval in Vermont this month, at least 25 states are considering or have considered legislation to require GE labeling – the most recent and widely publicized votes appearing in Washington and California.

Related: Vermont GMO Labeling Bill Goes to Governor's Desk

Connecticut and Maine have approved labeling bills, though they include several trigger clauses that limit the bill's ability to take immediate effect. Vermont's legislation includes no such limitations.

In sum, "independent objective information on the scientific issues and the possible legal ramifications and economic consequences of mandatory GE food labels needs to be provided to legislators and consumers," the authors conclude, "especially in states with labeling initiatives on the ballot, to help move the national discussion from contentious claims and counterclaims to a more fact-based and informed dialog."

Follow the link to read the full paper, "The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States" which includes a list of bills being considered in individual states and a complete overview of pro and con arguments for GMO labeling.