NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Those Who Want "GM Free" Food Should Pay For It, Not All Consumers

January 22, 2001

Instead of labeling food products that contain genetically-modified ingredients -- which would be costly and confusing -- why not label as "GM free" foods that have no GM elements. That way, say analysts, the cost of testing, monitoring and segregating non-GM foods would be borne by those consumers willing to pay a premium for that assurance, rather than all consumers.

Furthermore, a "GM free" standard would be accurate -- unlike the labeling requirement in the European Union, where only foods in which more than 5 percent of the ingredients are from genetically-modified products are required to carry a consumer "warning" label.

Of course, experts say there is no evidence whatsoever that GM foods pose any health threat.

  • Not only do a great many foods already contain GM ingredients, but even those that do not may be processed by genetically customized enzymes and micro-organisms, raising the question of whether they should be labeled GM as well.
  • A catchall GM label would be too broad to provide consumers with much guidance.
  • It is nearly impossible for food manufacturers and processors to know whether GM ingredients may have become mixed into such crops as corn and soybeans -- since the oils extracted from GM plants are chemically identical to non-GM ones.
  • Experts estimate that segregating GM and non-GM soybeans alone would add as much as a dollar in costs to a $5 to $6 bushel.

A study for the Canadian market by KPMG Consulting projects that such segregation would force retail price markups of as much as 10 percent. The Chicago Federal Reserve has warned that the burden of segregating GM and non-GM crops could make smaller and higher-cost agricultural firms less viable.

Source: Ela Kintisch, "Sticker Shock," New Republic, January 22, 2001.


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