Cost of labeling genetically engineered food will be minimal
By Michael Hansen on Monday, February 22nd, 2016
They’re at it again. Opponents of labeling foods containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients are citing a new study—this time by the Corn Refiners Association—to suggest that mandatory GE food labeling would boost a typical family of four’s spending by an average of $1,050 per year. Count us as skeptical.
This new study—like previous industry-funded studies such as the one released last year by a Cornell University professor—makes a number of unreasonable assumptions to come up with the supposedly large cost of labeling GE foods, including that companies will reformulate all their products to remove GE ingredients. The assumptions are so tenuous that the Washington Post Fact Checker column gave the Cornell study a rating of three out of a possible four “Pinocchios” (“mostly false,” with significant factual error or obvious contradiction). The same could be said for the Corn Refiners study, since it makes the same basic assumption.
Such exorbitant estimates are directly contradicted by the recent announcement by Campbell Soup Company. Last month, Campbell’s announced that it will label its food products for the presence of GE ingredients, and support federal mandatory labeling of GE foods. A spokesperson said at the time that “there will be no price increase as a result of Vermont or national GMO labeling for Campbell products.”
The argument that mandated label changes will cost consumers large sums of money has been made before. Some claimed that the Nutrition Facts label, required by a 1990 law, would drastically increase the price of food. But as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted at that time, the agency did not consider reformulation costs in its analysis of the cost of nutrition labeling, as “they depend on marketing decisions and are impossible to predict. Moreover, they do not result directly from these proposed rules.” More recently, Campbell’s chief executive noted to the New York Times that the adoption of the Nutrition Facts label did not significantly raise costs.
In contrast to industry’s unrealistic estimates, an analysis of existing studies of the cost of labeling commissioned by Consumers Union and conducted by the independent economic research firm ECONorthwest found that the median cost that might be passed on to consumers was just $2.30 per person annually, less than a penny a day. This figure takes into account one-time implementation expenses, so the longer-term annual cost per person after could be even lower.
Regardless of exact figures, the bottom line is clear: the cost of GE food labeling would be minimal. It’s time for the entire food industry to stop misrepresenting the facts, follow Campbell’s lead, and work with us to establish a national, mandatory, on-package label.