Impact of mandatory GE labeling evaluated

New CAST paper looks deeper into the controversial debate and potential impacts of mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods.

The debate over labeling of food that contain genetically engineered products continues to grow, especially as many states are considering legislation to mandate labels stating GE content.

On one side are the proponents of mandatory GE labeling citing the right to know what is in their food as an important attribute of a democratic society. On the opposite side of the spectrum is those who think the label will increase the cost of food and confuse consumers with no corresponding improvement in human health or food safety.

A new Council for Agricultural Science and Technology paper looks to cut through the biased noise that has previously been used as ammunition between the opposing sides.

In its Issue Paper 54, The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States, the scientific outfit based in Ames, Iowa, examines arguments for and against labels, the costs involved with labeling, and experiences in countries that use mandatory labeling.

Based on the author’s science-based research conclusions, the paper states that there is no science-based reason to single out GE foods and feeds for mandatory process-based labeling.

During the past 20 years, the Food and Drug Adminstration has found that all 148 transgenic gene/crop combinations evaluated by the agency (including all biotech crops commercialized to date, despite the fact that this premarket safe­ty review is technically voluntary) are equivalent to their conventional coun­terparts.

Japanese regulators indepen­dently reached the same conclusions for 189 submissions they reviewed. These submissions spanned biotech corn, soybean, cotton, canola, wheat, potato, alfalfa, rice, papaya, tomato, cabbage, pepper, raspberry, and mushroom, and they included traits of herbicide, drought and cold tolerance, insect and virus resistance, nutrient enhancement, and expression of protease inhibitors, the paper cites.

In addition, mandatory labeling based on process abandons the traditional U.S. practice of providing for consumer food preferences through voluntary product differentiation and labeling.

The paper also notes that 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). A national mandate could also violate international trade rules, similar to the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law which has been found out of compliance at the World Trade Organization.

Market-driven voluntary labeling measures (e.g., organic, Non-GMO Project, Whole Foods initiative) cur­rently provide consumers with non-GE choices in the U.S. marketplace, which the paper outlines is a way to provide those who desire to purchase the products to do so.

The report also discusses the wide discrepancies in the projected increases in food costs under a mandatory labeling system. 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.

The authors recommend that legislators and consumers should be provided with independent objective information to help move the national discussion from contentious claims to a more fact-based, informed debate.

CAST Issue Paper 54 and its companion Ag quickCAST are available online at the CAST website,, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. All CAST Issue Papers, Commentaries, and Ag quickCASTs are FREE.

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