Cost of labeling genetically engineered food will be minimal


Senior Staff Scientist
Director, Food Policy Initiatives​


You deserve safe, healthy food. Help us label GMOs and get antibiotics out of food animals.

By Michael Hansen on Monday, February 22nd, 2016

gmo food 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.

6 responses to “Cost of labeling genetically engineered food will be minimal”

  1. J. Dawson says:

    Exactly what S. Reichert said. The cost of labeling is a moot point. If they thought it would improve sales they’d throw millions at it. They are doing the opposite-throwing millions at fighting labeling as they are worried about losing sales when people are given a choice to know what’s in the food they buy. To oppose labeling goes against a true supply and demand market place. If for no other reason (although there are many) I think it’s very wrong to let the seller manipulate the market for their own profit which is what they are doing when they expect us to make uninformed purchases. To do so at the risk of potentially affecting public health without choice or notice is reckless. For the FDA to agree to make labeling voluntary when 90% of the public feels it should be mandatory is telling and borders on conspiracy. Especially when some of them come from the industry they are policing. How that isn’t disallowed as conflict of interest is beyond me. I also think the time, effort and resources used to pass a bill that has compliance as voluntary with no recourse or consequence for failure to comply as a vast and shameful waste. It’s subterfuge, I expect. These are resources the tax payer is on the hook for when those resources would be better used so many other places and now won’t be.

  2. Tania Malven says:

    Most of these companies also sell overseas and are already labeling GMOs for Europe. So what is the big deal about labeling in the USA??? GMOs encourage the use of massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides that is very wrong!!!!!

  3. Ed Crane says:

    How will it benefit me and other consumers to know that there are GE ingredients in the food? In other words, why should we care? Are they harmful? Harmful to farmers’ economies? The environment?

    I don’t see how labeling is going to help unless we know why it is mentioned on the label.

    We don’t want to get people to worked up about dihydrogen monoxide either.

    • Michael Hansen says:

      This information is important to many consumers, if not you. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that the only labeling required on food products has to do with nutrition, safety, impact on environment or impact on farmers’ economies. That is not true. For example, ingredient labeling, or labeling whether a juice is fresh or from concentrate, or whether milk is homogenized, or country of origin labeling for juices and imported products, or whether food is irradiated (even though FDA says that food irradiation is safe) among other things.

      Another example is source labeling for hydrolyzed protein, since this information is of importance to vegetarians, and observant jews and muslims.

      Since there is no required premarket safety assessment before GE crops are put on the market, labeling of GE ingredients would help us to track any unintended health impacts.

      For more detailed argument on why GE foods should be labeled, see our comments on FDA’s Draft Guidance on voluntary labeling for the GE salmon:

      Finally, as for the comment on dihydrogen monoxide, I’d point out that if water is injected into meat products, that fact has to be on the label as well.

      Bottom line, required information on food labels serve many functions, some of which you may find useful, some of which you won’t.

  4. I see no problem with labeling. I do see a problem with those that ignore science and “label” GE food as bad. This is what manufactures fear. The anti GE (or GM) uneducated will be up in arms the minute labeling begins.

  5. S. Reichert says:

    I work with packaging. Have you ever noticed that by the time you need to buy f.e. a new facial cream, the design has changed that you cannot find exactly the same item again? Same is true for modern food packaging, especially when targeted to younger customers. Even the ones that you might think don’t change, do actually change gradually. Packages especially by larger food giants are changing frequently, for marketing or updates on nutrition fact regulations, serving sizes or to adjust content. Many food companies also add voluntary information, such as ‘gluten free’ or ‘fat free’ without complaint.
    Packaging is reprinted on a regular basis, and digital printing today is much cheaper and easy to change than traditional printing plates that used to be expensive. Companies will be able to implement the changes likely with the next nutrition facts update they were planning to run anyway.

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