Should food producers be forced to label genetically modified, or GM, goods? It’s a trend that’s been popping up in states across the country, with laws now on the books in Maine and Connecticut. The possibility has been raised in Illinois, too, with a Senate bill under discussion that would require foods with even one GM ingredient to be labeled.
GM foods are created by transferring genetic material between organisms, usually for reducing susceptibility to crop diseases that otherwise reduce yields and would need extensive pesticide treatment. Sponsors of the Illinois bill claim that the intent is to help consumers “make informed purchasing decisions.” But while greater consumer choices are desirable, is forced labeling best way to promote this end?
In fact, consumer choice already exists without a GM labeling mandate. Many producers already cater to people who prefer to consume organic or non-GM foods, and they label their products as “GMO-free” or “organic” so the people who want them will find them. The organic food industry hasrevenues of nearly $63 billion worldwide, a market built on catering to the concerns of consumers who believe, rightly or wrongly, that organic or non-GM foods are healthier.
Additionally, forced labeling is not just unnecessary; it’s also expensive. Labeling adds high costs to producers – a further burden onalready over-regulated Illinois businesses. Food producers would not only have to bear the cost of designing and printing new labels; they also would have to establish a system for tracking and segregating agricultural and animal products at all levels of production to be sure of whether a particular product has genetically modified ingredients. A large part of these costs will be passed on to consumers. When a GMO labeling law was proposed in California, an economicstudy showed that a label requirement would increase foods costs for families by $350-$400 per year. Higher food prices are the last thing consumers need in an already-weak economy.
The best way to look out for consumer choice is to leave businesses free to cater to it, without imposing unnecessary costs on everyone.