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Mandatory labeling of genetically-engineered foods available to consumers would result in a cost increase of $2.30 per person each year, according to a new study that analyzed research on labeling costs ahead of Oregon’s ballot initiative on the issue.
The report, conducted by economic research firm ECONorthwest, examined “existing research presented in academic and other publications relevant to the question of [genetically engineered] labeling costs” that used models pertinent to the requirements vested in Ballot Measure 92, the labeling initiative Oregon residents will vote on this November.
If passed, the main demands of Ballot Measure 92 would mandate sufficient labels on any packaged food with a GE ingredient and in-store placards or labels on GE raw foods. Food producers and food retailers, respectively, would be responsible for those costs. Any food that has a GE-ingredient weight of 0.9 percent must comply with the labeling standards, which are similar to the requirements for GMO labeling in the European Union.
The study, commissioned by GMO-labeling supporter Consumers Union, sought to synthesize how costs involved in implementing the labeling requirements facing Oregon voters will be passed on to consumers of the relevant goods.
The effects of Ballot Measure 92 - like similar measures that have been defeated in recent years - have been the subject of studies funded by major food manufacturers and retailers. They claimed that labeling GMO food would pass off hundreds of dollars in increased costs per person.
ECONorthwest researchers said in gathering relevant studies for their own analysis, they avoided reports that dabbled in market speculation, or predictions based on assumed consumer behavior that is impossible to predict. The report also took into account regulatory compliance periods.
“Many studies consider possible market impacts (e.g., speculation regarding consumer behavioral changes), and other matters not directly related to the cost of designing and labeling a product as containing a GE ingredients,” ECONorthwest wrote.
“A number of these studies report estimates of food price impacts from scenarios in which companies subject to GE labeling requirements are assumed to reformulate their products to contain only organic ingredients. We did not consider such scenarios.”
Instead, ECONorthwest took into account how the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has calculated cost impact for consumers that comes from food labeling.
“FDA states that its model does not consider reformulation costs as ‘they depend on marketing decisions and are impossible to predict. Moreover, they do not result directly from these proposed rules,’” ECONorthwest said.
Thus, the relevant studies, which found cost impacts anywhere from $.32 to $15.01 per person, showed a median price increase of $2.30 per person each year.
“It would amount to less than the cost of a gallon of milk,” said Rebecca Spector, GE-labeling expert for the Center for Food Safety. “We are pleased that a fair, independent study was published to finally show that GE food labeling essentially adds no cost to consumers. GE labeling hasn’t raised the cost of food in any other country that has implemented labeling, so there’s no reason it should here in the US.”
Polling has suggested that over 90 percent of Americans would prefer GMO ingredients in consumables to be labeled to some extent. Dozens of states have considered GMO labeling laws on some level, as there is no federal labeling standard.
Vermont passed legislation in May that mandates GMO-labeling in foods beginning in July 2016. Yet a handful of powerful national trade organizations - representing major players such as Monsanto, Dupont, and General Mills - have sued the state over the requirements.
In other states, initial polling support for labeling cratered under what was reported to be heavy spending by the same trade groups and companies. Both California and Washington state considered labels in recent years but the proposals ultimately failed after millions of dollars of corporate spending entered the equation.
Grocery Manufacturers Association, the top member of a coalition of trade groups that has vowed to fight GE labeling, raised and spent the bulk of the overall $22 million that opponents of labeling sank into defeating Washington state’s ballot initiative last year.
In April, Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo (Kan.) introduced an industry-backed bill in Congress that would prohibit all states from implementing their own labeling laws, on the grounds that having each state create its own rules would result in “a patchwork” of requirements “that makes it enormously difficult to operate a food system.”
While Vermont is the first and only state that is in the process of enacting a strict labeling measure, Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling legislation. Yet enactment of those laws is contingent on nearby states also passing similar measures.
Supporters of GMOs say adverse effects of food products which come from the manipulation of an organism’s genetic material are unproven at this point.
Yet science is also inconclusive, at best, on whether genetically-engineered products can cause long-term harm to human and environmental health. At least, that is the consensus held by the several dozen countries which have banned or severely restricted their use worldwide. According to the Center for Food Safety, 64 nations have mandated GMO labeling and have not seen a spike in food prices.
“Industry cost estimates incorporate unrealistic assumptions about how GMO labeling requirements will drive food producers to switch to all organic ingredients, which would be much more expensive,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, in response to ECONorthwest’s findings.
“However, there is no factual basis for this assumption and we believe producers will continue to sell GMO foods once they are labeled, and many consumers will continue to buy them, with no discernible price impact.”