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Science Community Advises Against Mandatory GMO Labeling

Apr 30, 2014

A new paper released Monday in Washington, D.C., by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology reviews the debate surrounding labeling for genetically modified foods (GMOs) in the United States and the potential impact of making it mandatory. The authors conclude that current labeling measures already provide consumers with non-GMO choices and that mandatory labeling would raise food costs.

Saying state labeling laws likely will spur litigation, they also conclude that legislators and consumers need independent, objective information to move the GMO conversation from contentious claims to a fact-based dialogue. Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, and Kyle Shreve, IDFA manager of legislative affairs, attended the CAST briefing.

The paper from CAST, a nonprofit organization dedicated to interpreting and communicating science-based information, describes the scientific, legal and economic aspects of requiring food labeling based on the process of genetic engineering (GE) rather than on some attribute of the food itself. It states, “All domesticated crops and animals have been genetically modified in some way, whether through conventional breeding techniques or biotechnology. Worldwide scientific evidence shows that both types of breeding are equally safe.”

No Material Differences

The authors note that no material differences in composition or safety of commercialized GMO crops have been identified that would justify a label based on the modified nature of the food. They also reiterate that the World Trade Organization (WTO) and U.S. interstate commerce laws favor voluntary standards.   

According to the paper, non-GMO and organic food are more expensive to produce because of lower yields, higher production costs, segregation costs and various testing, certification and traceability costs. It show that U.S. consumers paid 120 percent more for organic ice cream, and organic fruits and vegetables averaged 50 percent to 100 percent higher prices than conventional foods during 2012 and 2013. 

Calling for improved communication, the authors explain the myriad legal issues associated with state laws that aim to mandate process-based labeling. They mention Vermont, which recently passed a bill requiring mandatory labeling for GMO products and ingredients, and highlight the legal challenge Vermont lost when it attempted to implement mandatory rBST labeling in 1996. 

More than two dozen states are considering mandatory GMO legislation, despite the fact that similar initiatives were defeated in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013. 


 Impact on Dairy

In many, but not all, of the state’s proposed labeling initiatives, dairy has received exemptions, including milk derived from animals that have eaten GMO feed or been treated with GMO therapeutics. Dairy products that use a GMO food processing aid or enzyme also would remain exempt from mandatory labeling in most cases. However, other dairy components, including sweeteners, flavorings and food products with dairy as an ingredient, would fall under most mandatory labeling regimes.   

These state labeling initiatives generally cover foods bought at the grocery store, but they would not require labeling for foods consumed in restaurants and other away-from-home outlets.  

IDFA opposes state GMO labeling and supports federal legislation recently introduced that would set guidelines for voluntary GMO labeling.

What Is CAST?

CAST is composed of scientific societies and many individual, student, company, nonprofit and associate society members. It was established in 1972 as a result of a 1970 meeting sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council.

Read “The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States.”

For more information, contact Saunders at

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