You guys! I am done with yet another semester! Only half a billion more to go now! So now, here’s part two of my paper.
PRO: Yes, genetically modified foods should carry a mandatory label.
Take a moment and envision the orange juice selection in any local supermarket. Thanks to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that food must be “safe, wholesome and properly labeled,” shoppers have a wealth of information at their fingertips.
From these labels, shoppers can know whether the juice is fresh or reconstituted from concentrate; if it’s 100% juice or a cocktail of juice combined with water and sugar; whether or not the juice contains preservative or colorants, such as Red #40; if the orange juice has been verified as Kosher or not; whether the oranges had been grown in accordance with the USDA’s standards for organic agriculture; or if the juice has been reduced in calories or has had nutrients added to it, like calcium or extra vitamins. Armed with this wealth of information, shoppers can freely buy an orange juice that’s in accordance with their needs.
Why then should the 60 to 70 percent of processed food that contains genetically modified ingredients be exempt from this standard of truth in labeling?
As previously mentioned, years of polls have consistently shown that a majority of consumers in the United States want genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. Legislation has been entered at both the federal and state levels. At least seven states have debated labeling and marketing requirements for GM foods, and two different “Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Acts” have been introduced into the US Congress in the past ten years. Although these bills failed to pass, they clearly demonstrate the public’s preference for GM food labeling.
In the end, it comes down to a basic right: the shopper’s right to know what s/he is buying and eating. Consumers should have the right to be given the facts necessary to make an informed choice, and to be able to select freely from a range of products according to their preferences and beliefs.
Whether or not the Food and Drug Administration should require the labeling genetically modified foods is a difficult question, but the answer is one that hearkens back to the very origins of FDA: people have a right to know what is in the food they buy.
As food technology changed has changed over the years, the FDA has adapted to these changes and passed new regulations—in just the 1950s alone, the FDA passed a series of new laws addressing pesticide residues (1954), food additives (1958), and color additives (1960). Now, it is up to the FDA again to pass a new regulation requiring the labeling of genetically modified ingredients.
This process won’t be quick or simple. And while it won’t come without some cost, it also won’t come at the extravagant price claimed by opponents of mandatory labeling. A 2007 study by Quebec’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food found that mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods would cost far less than the food industry had claimed.
While studies commissioned by the Canadian food industry claimed the annual cost of implementing a mandatory labeling system would cost up to Cdn$200 million (US$170 million) in Quebec alone—and nearly a billion dollars (Cdn) to Canada as a whole—the study estimated the yearly cost of such a program at Cdn$28 million (US$23.8 million) to Quebec’s food industry and just Cdn$1.7 million ($1.4 million) to the provincial government.
It’s true that mandatory labeling would require the implementation of separate production, harvesting, storage, handling and processing systems for genetically modified and unmodified foods, but the costs of such a system would not necessarily be automatically passed along to consumers through higher food prices.
Indeed, in countries where GM labeling is mandatory, most manufacturers have either found a way to absorb the additional cost—or they have shifted away from GM ingredients altogether. For many processed food products, because the GM ingredients now available (i.e., corn and soybean material) typically account for a small share of the cost of any processed food products, this has not resulted in any significant cost increase for consumers.
If there is likely to be little or no increased cost to consumers, then what reasons remain to oppose mandatory labeling? Opponents to labeling cannot simultaneously claim that mandatory labels will cause retailers to remove GM products while also claiming there is no discernible difference between GM and non-GM crops. If there is no real difference between GM and non-GM foods, then what harm will there be to consumers if the genetically modified foods are no longer available? The only foreseeable harm will come to the biotechnology companies who will find themselves with fewer and fewer farmers interested in buying genetically modified seeds.
Finally, opponents may ask simply, “Why bother?” If there is no proof that GM foods are at all harmful, why label them at all? As mentioned, the answer is simple: for the same reason that orange juice is listed as being from concentrate or kosher or with added calcium… not because it’s harmful, but because consumers simply have a right to know what they are eating.
Well, what did you think? Convinced by my arguments? Wanted to see something I didn’t cover here? Leave a comment here or over on Facebook.