State Labeling Would Be a Logistical Calamity

By Anderson Haxton ​
​Wastewatcher, August 2014

For the past several years, activist groups such as Food Democracy Now! and Just Label It! have been pushing for mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Unfortunately, the exuberance of this grassroots effort may cause more harm than good.

GMOs are biotechnologically advanced plants that produce higher outputs while requiring fewer pesticides and fertilizers.  Since up to 80 percent of packaged foods in the United States contain ingredients that were genetically modified, whether consumers know it or not, GMOs have been safely incorporated into their lives.  Nonetheless, GMO labeling proponents have made the issue into a hot topic in state legislatures across the country.  To date in 2014, there have been 67 proposed pieces of legislation in 25 states addressing GMO labeling.

Despite the rhetoric of the GMO labeling activists, there are no real issues with GMOs.  On October 20, 2012, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) said, “The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.  Consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees.  A March 28, 2014 article in The Hill quoted FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s testimony before Congress, in which she stated “We have not seen evidence of safety risks associated with genetically modified foods.”

Nonetheless, mandatory GMO labeling has caught the attention of vocal, prominent allies beyond the activist groups, including Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.  In a July 10, 2014 Des Moines Register article, Greenfield stated, “This is not some crazy idea. It is common sense.”

Aside from the science, this debate also matters because of cost.  A Cornell University study released on May 12, 2014 found that “New York’s proposed mandatory GMO labeling bill would cost families an average of $500 per year at the checkout aisle. The study comes on the heels of similar studies in Washington State and California that showed mandatory GMO labels would result in similar increases in the cost of food.”  Families who are not concerned about GMOs, and therefore indifferent to GMO labeling, could be forced to pay for something they neither need nor want.

Even if GMO labeling were to become a reality, substantial problems would be created if individual states structured their own unique requirements.  Supermarkets are often restocked from multistate warehouses, and, if one state adopts a different rule, food segregation will be necessary for companies to comply with the law.  According to the Albany Times Union, “The problem will be compounded if other states adopt different labelling bills.  Will warehouses have to triple- or quadruple-slot items?  What products will stores no longer be able to carry?  What will this do to consumer prices? The need for a national standard is clear.”

Given the endorsement of GMOs by the FDA and outside scientists, the issue of labeling GMO food does not seem pressing.  Indeed, the exorbitant costs imposed upon families by such labeling should give pause to any lawmaker considering compulsory requirements.  State-based labeling standards would be a logistical disaster for grocery stores and would further drive up costs.  While free market advocates believe labeling should not be required at all, if legislators decide to impose such a standard, it must be done by Congress or a federal agency such as the FDA.

 

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