12 Far-Reaching GMO Labeling Pros and Cons

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GMOs are genetically modified organisms which have had their genetic materials artificially manipulated within laboratory conditions. This engineering process may combine plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria in ways that would not occur naturally or through standard crossbreeding efforts.

According to the Non-GMO Project, there are currently 60+ countries which have created laws that require GMO labeling. More than 300 regions have banned GMO growth outright. Here are the pros and cons of GMO labeling to consider.

List of the Pros of GMO Labeling

1. It would create a consistent global standard for food labeling.
Many large food companies have an international presence in grocery stores. There are many countries around the world which have already passed mandatory GMO labeling laws. That means the production and labeling requirements for packaging is already in place for numerous organizations. There may be additional infrastructure costs for some companies in certain markets, but the actual design and production costs are already known and accepted by many consumers.

2. GMO labeling would increase ingredient awareness.
Many individuals have specific dietary requirements which must be followed for their health. Whether someone is a vegan, a vegetarian, or has a food allergy or sensitivity, labeling requirements would make it possible for people to make smarter eating choices for themselves. GMO labeling would require manufacturers to inform consumers if plant-based ingredients were modified with animal DNA in some way.

3. It meets the right-to-know expectations consumers have for their food.
The chances are good that you’re eating stuff that you don’t really know where it originates. L-Cyesteine, found in bread products, is an amino acid found in duck feathers. Beef fat is found in Twinkies. Polydimethylsiloxane is a common food additive that is also used in head lice treatments. GMO labeling requirements would give consumers more information about what they’re eating so they can actually know what is in their food.

4. GMO labeling would reduce large corporate influences in farming practices.
The majority of consumers want GMO labeling because they have concerns about what is in their food. Mass-produced food, including crops and livestock products, often contains GMO ingredients because it is cheaper to produce food that way than using traditional methods. By creating a labeling requirement, the power of large agricultural companies to influence small farms and growers is reduced. People get the chance to support local growers at their local stores.

5. It could help people begin to care about what they’re eating.
Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources conducted a survey in 2017 to determine what people in the U.S. know about the foods they eat. The survey found that 1 in 3 Americans do not know that foods without GMO ingredients contain genes. 46% of people didn’t know if they consume GMOs or believe they rarely do. 48% of respondents said that they rarely seek information about how their food is produced. GMO labeling could help people make more informed decisions by placing labels with clear ingredient information on each package.

6. Labels would offer a tracking tool.
Problems within the food chain are easier to track when there are labels for specific products, ingredients, or growing methods. There are already problems within the U.S. food chain, for example, with high-calorie junk foods that can lead to obesity. Rising obesity rates tend to correlate with rising numbers of food insecure households within a society. By including GMO labels on foods, it would become easier to track problems within the food chain, identify solutions, and reduce food insecurity issues.

List of the Cons of GMO Labeling

1. Not everyone understands the science behind GMOs.
GMO labeling would allow all consumers to immediately understand if the foods they are eating contain genetically modified ingredients. Recognizing these ingredients is different than correctly understanding what a genetically modified ingredient happens to be. In a 2015 survey that was conducted by FooDS, about 4 in 5 people in the U.S. supported mandatory GMO labels. The same number of people also supported mandatory labels on food containing DNA.

2. Mandatory GMO labeling would increase the costs of food.
For food manufacturers to meet GMO labeling standards, they would need to alter their product packaging. Although the label would be a small change, it would create brand-new packaging elements to be produced. That comes with a cost that would ultimately trickle-down to the consumer. GMO labeling would likely increase consumer costs at the supermarket for virtually all products.

3. Labeling requirements would be placed on non-GMO products as well.
It wouldn’t be just the GMO foods that would require a label. Food manufacturers would also need to label their non-GMO foods to be appropriately identified as well. Ingredient lists would need to be segregated into GMO and non-GMO items. Although this information creates more consumer awareness, it would also mean that the food costs for families would rise from the already high costs of $239 per week for those on a moderate budget.

4. It can stigmatize products that have been legitimately improved.
GMO labels are shown to scare consumers away from GMO products. Genetic engineering has produced numerous foods for us that have allowed farmers to continue growing crops in changing conditions. GMO foods help to grow crops in desert climates, hasten the speed of animal products to the market, and improve yields. Requiring labels on these products will only cause consumers to be alarmed about what they are eating in a way that could be misleading.

5. GMO labels would create confusion.
Labels on products that contain GMO foods are intended to prevent consumer confusion. The reality, however, is that labeling mandates actually create more confusion than it resolves. A study by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences found that consumers were willing to pay up to 4 times more for food labeled Non-GMO Project compared to foods labeled USDA Organic. Non-GMO Project foods must contain no more than 0.9% GM characteristics. USDA Organic foods do not allow any GMO materials whatsoever.

6. GMO methods are considered to be safe.
The U.S. government has scrutinized genetic engineering more than it has evaluated current crop growing methods. The National Academy of Sciences and the FDA have both found that current GMO methods are as safe as crossbreeding. Add in the fact that organic foods must be GMO-free to receive that label and there is already a labeling requirement in place in the U.S. for most consumers who want to avoid GMO foods.

These GMO labeling pros and cons balance the cost of packaging with the information consumers need to make healthy eating choices. Many food products are intensely regulated, especially when genetic engineering is involved. Yet money often influences legislation and regulation, which is why such a system may be necessary.