With at least 25 states in the U.S. considering legislation to mandate labeling of foods from genetically engineered plants or animals consuming GE feed, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology examined key issues of the debate.
A CAST task force started from the premise that hundreds of independent studies have determined that foods made using GE ingredients are safe. It examined public opinion, consumer choice, right to know, and legal and economic aspects of mandatory labeling based on the use of a production process rather than some attribute of the food itself.
Taken from CAST’s issue paper: “The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food in the United States” — released on April 28 — the authors, led by University of California-Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam, concluded:
• All domesticated crops and animals have been genetically modified in some way; there is no science-based reason to single out GE foods and feeds for mandatory process-based labeling. Wide-ranging evidence shows that GE technology is equally safe to conventional breeding.
• Mandatory labeling based on process abandons the traditional U.S. practice of providing for consumer food preferences through voluntary product differentiation and labeling (i.e. marketing and promotion of products with specific attributes).
• Market-driven voluntary labeling measures (e.g. organic, Non-GMO Projects, Wholesale Foods initiative) provide consumers with non-GE choices in the U.S. marketplace.
• Current labeling authority is federal; state mandatory labeling laws may be invalid for conflicting with preemptive federal authority and may also violate the First Amendment rights. If courts invalidate such locally imposed laws, it may be seen that courts are thwarting consumer will. Litigation seems a likely outcome if states pass mandatory labeling laws
• Labeling at the national level has trade implications and needs to be harmonized with international trade agreements that frown on mandatory labeling for a production process
when there is no scientific evidence that the process relates to food safety if states pass mandatory labeling laws.
• Mandatory GE labeling would increase food costs. The size of this increase will depend on choices made in the marketplace by suppliers and marketers and what products are included in labeling requirements. If, as in other countries, sellers move to non-GE offerings, food costs could rise significantly, and these increases would exact a greater burden on low-income families. If, instead, food suppliers choose to label virtually all products as containing GE without testing or segregation, increases in costs might be minimal.
According to its website, CAST is a nonprofit organization with funding provided by individual, corporate, non–profit organization, and scientific society members. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible, science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.