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How Much Will Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods Really Cost?

How Much Will Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods Really Cost?

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Since the first genetically engineered (GE) crops were introduced in the United States in the 1990s, consumers have not been able to tell whether they are eating these controversial new ingredients. And whenever the subject of mandatory labeling of GE foods comes up, the food industry claims that labeling will be prohibitively expensive.
Since the first genetically engineered (GE) crops were introduced in the United States in the 1990s, consumers have not been able to tell whether they are eating these controversial new ingredients. And whenever the subject of mandatory labeling of GE foods comes up, the food industry claims that labeling will be prohibitively expensive.

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Published by: Food and Water Watch on Sep 19, 2012
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How Much Will LabelingGenetically EngineeredFoods
Really 
Cost?
But the industry's most frequently repeated claims aboutthe cost of labeling are based on cherry-picked eco-nomic analyses and extreme scenarios. The biggest foodcompanies and agribusinesses are worried that consum-ers will be wary of “scary-sounding” GE labels.
1
But if GE products are as safe and natural as these companiesclaim, then why not let consumers decide what theywant to buy?
Food Industry Claim:
GE labeling is unnecessary.
Consumers deserve the right to know what's in the food thatthey are providing for their families. Not only is GE labelingrequired in other countries, but the U.S. public has beenclamoring for it for years. A 2008 poll by CBS/ 
New York Times
found that 87 percent of U.S. consumers wanted allgenetically engineered ingredients to be labeled.
2
 
A 2010Thomson Reuters survey of consumers found 93 percentin support of GE labeling.
3
And 91 percent of voterspolled in a 2012 Mellman Group study favored havingthe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirelabels on GE foods or foods containing GE ingredients; of those, 81 percent “strongly favored” the labeling pro-posal.
4
 With labeling, consumers would be able to find out thedifferences in how various foods were produced anddecide for themselves what those differences mean.Whether or not someone chooses to read a label isentirely their choice, but people deserve the right toknow what they are buying, eating and feeding to theirfamilies. Food companies always seem to find room onthe label to make a marketing claim — such as “newand improved” or “all-natural” — to try to convince us tobuy, but somehow they cannot find any space if they arerequired to tell us a fact about the process by which theitem was produced.A label stating that a product is genetically engineeredwill not mislead customers; it would simply provide thefacts about the food they are eating.
Food Industry Claim:
GE labeling means higher food costs.
Opponents of some labeling proposals claim that man-datory GE food labeling would increase food costs “forthe average family by $600 per year.”
5
These kinds of claims are often based on analyses done by labeling op-ponents in the food industry and are far from objectiveexaminations of the facts.It is not very surprising that a study with those kinds of figures was commissioned by the Grocery ManufacturersAssociation. According to a recent GMA report that hasnot been made public, the cost of labeling would end
S
ince the first genetically engineered (GE) crops were introduced in theUnited States in the 1990s, consumers have not been able to tell whetherthey are eating these controversial new ingredients. And whenever the subjectof mandatory labeling of GE foods comes up, the food industry claims thatlabeling will be prohibitively expensive.
FACT SHEET • SEPTEMBER 2012
 
up being as much as $825 more per family every year.
6
 Yet a look at the literature on mandatory food labelingreveals that a much lower cost is likely.An impartial consulting firm did a study in 2001 for theU.K. Food Standards Agency and found that GE labelingwould increase a household's annual food spending byonly 0.01 to 0.17 percent — a very small figure rang-ing from an increase of $.33 to $5.58 in 2010 real U.S.dollars (inflation-adjusted) annually.
7
The GMA's esti-mate of $825 would be 13 percent of the 2010 averageannual household food expenditure in the United States — about 150 times more than the U.K. Food StandardsAgency's forecasted increase in household food spend-ing.
8
The GMA report grossly overestimates the impactthat labeling would have on food costs for consumers.It is worth looking at some of the costs that could be in-curred with mandatory labeling. Labeling would requiresegregating seeds according to GE content through-out the food chain, which is already done with manyidentity-preserved crops. Farmers are already segregatingcrops to prevent cross-contamination in fields, althoughsome cases of GE contamination do still occur. Label-ing requirements would not necessarily require farmersto incur any extra costs while keeping seeds separatedat the field level.
9
Depending on the markets where theseeds or grains are sold, grain handlers and seed compa-nies do testing to ensure the purity of the seeds that theysell or distribute. There are already segregation methodsin place today for crop and seed export to countrieswith GE labeling requirements, such as European Unioncountries, Japan and China.
10
Once labeling is requiredin the United States, these practices would have to beexpanded, but an entirely new system would not have tobe developed.Food processors and manufacturers would have to makesure that there is proper segregation in crop storage andcleaning of equipment,
11
but as long as labeling is main-tained throughout the process this should be straight-forward. Manufacturers can reduce the costs of actuallychanging their labels by waiting until their inventoryof labels is low and making the change before reorder-ing packaging materials, or coordinating the requiredlabeling change with a scheduled labeling change.According to an FDA Labeling Cost Model, “the pricingfor graphic design services does not differ substantiallyif additional changes are made because of a regula-tory requirement at the same time as a scheduled labelchange.”
12
Food Industry Claim:
GE labeling means morebureaucracy and taxpayer costs.
For decades, the food industry has opposed any newfood labeling requirements, including nutrition labelsand ingredient listings. One of their favorite argumentsis that new labeling requirements will drive the growthof government bureaucracy and cost taxpayers money.
13
 Mandatory labeling would take monitoring and enforce-ment, but this does not have to be difficult as long asall players participated in labeling along all steps of thefood chain. If GE labeling is mandatory, federal and stateagencies could simply add GE labeling to the food label-ing requirements that they would already be assessingduring compliance inspections.
Food Industry Claim:
GE labeling would burdengrocers and retailers withmountains of paperwork.
Changing food labeling to reflect the presence of a GEingredient wouldn't be any different for grocery storesthan stocking a product that has changed its ingredientsor added a nutritional-benefit claim to the package. Atthe retail level, the costs for pre-packaged foods willbe very small, because the labels will have been addedlong before the food gets to the store. For foods that thestore handles (such as produce or some meat that isrepackaged on site), retailers will have to be sure that GEand non-GE products are kept separately and labeled assuch, not unlike what they do to provide country-of-ori-gin information or even pricing information. The bulk of the labeling costs will be incurred at the processing andmanufacturing stage, with grocery stores having smalladditional costs.
14
Food Industry Claim:
It is not the responsibility of the statesto create food labeling requirements.
States often lead the way when the federal governmentis too slow, too gridlocked or too weak to take action.Long before the United States enacted a mandatoryCountry of Origin Labeling (COOL) policy, eight statesrequired this labeling on their own.
15
Some states havealso led the way in enacting renewable energy stan-dards and mandates, as funding for federal initiatives has
 
declined.
16
California has been building its renewableenergy program since 1998, and by 2009, 12 percentof the state's electricity came from renewable sources,almost three times the national percentage of renewableenergy use.
17
It is more than reasonable that states areonce again taking the lead on the issue of labeling GEfood, where the federal government has failed to do itsjob.
Food Industry Claim:
GE labeling conflicts with science.
One common refrain from opponents of GE labeling isthat giving consumers information on how their foodwas produced is in conflict with “good science.” Yet thescience that the food industry likes to talk about is farfrom complete. Although the FDA contends that there isnot sufficient scientific evidence to prove that eating GEfoods leads to chronic harm,
18
the agency's process forevaluating the safety of these controversial new foods iscompletely inadequate.Companies submit their own safety-testing data, and in-dependent research on GE foods is limited because bio-technology companies prohibit cultivation for researchpurposes in the restrictive licensing agreements that con-trol the use of these patented seeds.
19
This has resulted infew independent studies on the effects of GE foods onhealth, and those that have been done were performedon rats and mice for short feeding trials. Some of the in-dependent, peer-reviewed research that has been doneon GE food consumption has revealed troubling healthimplications including deterioration of liver and kidneyfunction and impaired embryonic development.
20
The chronic effects of eating GE foods are still largelyunknown. And without labeling of GE foods, we can-not associate any health problems with people who atethem — because we do not know who ate them. Sincethe FDA has no way to track adverse health effects inpeople consuming GE foods, and because there is norequirement that food containing GE ingredients belabeled,
21
there is no effective way to gather data onhealth problems that may be happening. Because GEfoods contain novel genetic combinations that do notoccur naturally in our food system, the least that con-sumers deserve is that these foods are labeled with thisinformation in the grocery store.
What You Can Do
Go to
http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/genetically-engineered-foods/
to take action and learnmore.
Endnotes
1 No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.“Questions & Answers About the Food Labeling Proposition.” On fileand available at http://noprop37.com/uploads/1342545312-Noon37_QA_FACT.pdf. Accessed July 26, 2012.2 CBS News Poll Database. “CBS News/New York Times Poll, Apr.2008.” May 11, 2008 at Q88 and Q89. Available at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/12/politics/main3362530.shtml?tag=cbsnewsLeadStoriesArea. Accessed July 9, 2012.3 Thomson Reuters. “National Survey of Healthcare Consumers: Ge-netically Engineered Food.” October 2010 at 3.4 The Mellman Group, Inc. “Support for Mandatory Labeling of Ge-netically Engineered Foods Is Nearly Unanimous.” March 22, 2012.5 No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.“Fact Sheet.” On file and available at http://noprop37.com/ uploads/1342813362-Noon37FactSheet.pdf. Accessed July 26, 2012.6 Clayton, Chris. “Food Lobby says defeating California measure ishighest priority.
Western Livestock Journal
. July 23, 2012.7 Food & Water Watch analysis of data from: National EconomicResearch Associates. “Economic Appraisal of Options for Exten-sion of Legislation on GM Labelling: A Final Report for the FoodStandards Agency.” May 2001 at 69 to 70; U.S. Internal RevenueService. “Yearly Average Currency Exchange Rates.” On file andavailable at http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/ article/0,,id=206089,00.html. Accessed August 9, 2012; U.S. FederalReserve. “G.5 A Foreign Exchange Rates.” Federal Reserve StatisticalRelease. January 5, 2004. On file and available at http://www.federal-reserve.gov/releases/g5a/20040102/; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.“CPI Inflation Calculator.” Available at http://www.bls.gov/data/infla-tion_calculator.htm.8 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Expenditures-2010.”[News Release]. September 27, 2011. On file and available at http:// www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cesan.pdf.9 National Economic Research Associates, 2001 at 23.

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