NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods Is a Losing Proposition

September 20, 2012

California is considering a proposition that would require food to be labeled if it is genetically engineered (GE). The law does nothing more than deceive people into purchasing non-GE foods, which aren't different from GE foods. Scientists agree GE foods are simply an extension of genetic modifications that have long enhanced what we already eat, say Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Genetic engineering is safe and produces many advantages for people and the environment.

  • Three billion acres of crops are genetically engineered.
  • As a result, every year farmers spray millions of fewer gallons of pesticides and reduce topsoil erosion because varieties of GE foods are less susceptible to mold infections and fungal toxins.

The proposed law would hurt consumers in several ways.

  • Compliance costs would inflate the costs of goods, meaning families would have to pay up to $350 to $400 more a year on groceries.
  • Consumer choice would be reduced because the labels would create a perception that there is cause for concern, meaning retailers and restaurants would rid themselves of products that were GE, as was the case in Britain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require that special labels be put on foods that are GE. This is primarily because there is no change to a food's composition when it is GE.

Despite support for the proposition, the law is likely to be struck down by the court if it is approved. The first reason is that the federal law preempts state labeling rules that conflict with FDA policy. Second, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled over a decade ago that labeling mandates based on a right to know is a violation of the First Amendment.

Whether the proposition passes or doesn't, consumers already have the tools at their disposal to find out whether a food is GE. For instance, food producers can advertise that what they are selling is not GE, which gives consumers the knowledge and choice to decide between what they want to buy.

Source: Gregory Conko and Henry I. Miller, "Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods Is a Losing Proposition," Forbes, September 12, 2012.


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