The cost of GMO labeling? Less than a penny a day, says Consumers Union analysis

By Stephen DANIELLS

- Last updated on GMT

The cost of GMO labeling? Less than a penny a day, says Consumers Union analysis

Related tags: Genetically modified food, Genetically modified organism

The cost to consumers of requiring labeling of genetically modified food is $2.30 per person annually, or less than a penny a day, says new analysis commissioned by Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.

“Companies change their labeling all the time and with GMO labeling costing so little, it is likely some producers won't even bother to pass the minimal increase on to consumers,” ​said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union.

The analysis, conducted by the independent Portland-based economic research firm ECONorthwest, supports the union’s opposition to claims made in ads opposing Measure 92 in Oregon that labeling will force farmers and food producers to spend ‘millions’ and increase food costs for consumers.

The Genetically Engineered Raw and Packaged Food Labeling Act (Measure 92) qualified for a statewide vote in Oregon in November and would require firms to label raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering. Among the supporters for the measure is Whole Foods Market.

(Click HERE to read the proposed Act in full.)

“Given the minimal cost to consumers, the increased herbicide use involved in growing almost all genetically engineered crops, as well as the failure of government to require human safety assessments before genetically engineered foods reach the marketplace, GMO labeling is well worth it,” ​said Halloran. 

From Oregon to NY

Several reports have been published attempting to quantify the economic impact that a labeling initiative would have on consumers, and how the industry may pass on any costs.

A report from William Lesser, Susan E. Lynch Professor in Science and Business at Cornell University (available HERE​) concluded that the cost of New York State adopting labeling of GMO ingredient in food products could increase the cost of food for a family of four by $800 per year.

The study was paid for by the Council for Biotechnology Information, an industry group. Speaking with FoodNavigator-USA at the time of the Lesser report, Professor Marion Nestle from the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, called the results “so out of line and improbable”​.

Consumers Union’s Halloran said that industry cost estimates incorporate unrealistic assumptions about how GMO labeling requirements will drive food producers to switch to all organic ingredients, which would be much more expensive. “However, there is no factual basis for this assumption and we believe producers will continue to sell GMO foods once they are labeled, and many consumers will continue to buy them, with no discernible price impact,”​ she said. “Measure 92 simply requires foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled so that consumers can make an informed choice.” 

It’s not about shifting to organic…

j-haloran1
“Companies change their labeling all the time and with GMO labeling costing so little, it is likely some producers won't even bother to pass the minimal increase on to consumers” - Jean Halloran

The report, which can be accessed HERE​, did not consider the impact of replacing genetically modified ingredients with organic ingredients, as has been assumed in other studies.

“Rather we approached the question as FDA did in its study of the cost impact of nutritional labeling.  FDA states that its model does not consider reformulation costs as ‘they depend on marketing decisions and are impossible to predict. Moreover, they do not result directly from these proposed rules’,” ​said the report.

The figure of $2.30 is derived from a review of original research in the literature that considered the cost of labeling initiatives, dating from 1991-2014. These studies reported relevant cost estimates ranging from $0.32 to $15.01, with a median value of $2.30 per person per year.

“Producers are required to label foods that are frozen, from concentrate, homogenized, or irradiated, as well as a food’s country of origin. Poll after poll has found that more than 90 percent of consumers want foods that are genetically engineered to be labeled,” ​said Halloran.

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