One topic that just can’t seem to stay out of the news lately is the debate over mandatory GMO labeling. Is it a good thing for consumers? Is it a bad idea for manufacturers that use GMOs in their products? It’s tough to lean towards one side or the other. And with popular ingredients derived from GM crops like corn, sugar beet, cotton, soybean and canola, it’s hard to find a processed food item that doesn’t use GMOs. To help provide some facts around the topic, we’ve listed a few of the pros and cons to mandatory GMO labeling below. But first, let’s examine the current landscape.
Currently, the FDA does not require the labeling of GM foods, with the exception of foods that contain something one would not necessarily expect to be found in that food item. For example, peanut protein expressed in soybean would have to be properly labeled as such since it may contain a food allergen that people would not expect to be in the product. And since the FDA does not consider the methods used to produce new plant varieties harmful to the nutritious value of the crop or the safety of humans, there are no requirements for labeling when it comes to the development of the ingredients used beyond the point mentioned above. There are, however, voluntary guidelines for companies that do choose to label foods as non-GMO, but solely for the purpose of marketing their products. If a manufacturer does claim that a food is not bioengineered, the manufacturer should be able to substantiate that the claim is truthful and not misleading. This is where programs like the Non-GMO Project come into play, which currently provides a verification process to allow manufacturers to make non-GMO claims in compliance with current federal regulations.
Mandatory vs. Voluntary Labeling
There’s a significant difference when it comes to mandatory versus voluntary GMO labeling. First of all, and most importantly, voluntary is more for marketing to the consumers, letting GMO-conscious shoppers know that the product doesn’t contain bioengineered ingredients.
Mandatory labeling, on the other hand, would go significantly further and would require that all food products containing GM ingredients inform consumers of such. To what degree? Manufacturers could be required to indicate which ingredient is GM and what percentage of that particular ingredient is in the product. So as people push for federal regulation on GMO labeling, we find ourselves in a heated debate with folks who are for labeling and folks who are against.
Pros and Cons to Mandatory GMO Labeling
Right to Know: Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. And if a consumer is concerned about GM ingredients found in food products they are purchasing, labeling will help them to determine what they would prefer to purchase.
Helps Vegetarians, Vegans and Certain Religions: By adding labels to GM products, vegetarians, vegans and those practicing certain religions will be able to more easily determine if a product has been modified with animal DNA.
Everyone Else Is Doing It: Multiple countries around the world have some sort of labeling requirement when it comes to GM foods. And many folks in the US are for mandatory labeling.
Lack of Understanding GMOs: While consumers will easily determine which products contain GM ingredients with an implemented labeling system, there's a portion of the population that doesn’t correctly understand what the term genetically engineered means. This could hurt a lot of manufacturers, as the label could be seen as a warning instead. For example, a recent survey conducted by FooDS revealed that roughly 80% of Americans support the mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering”, but they also said they would support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA”.
Costs Would Trickle Down: The overall costs to implement such a system would be very expensive and this will ultimately trickle down to consumer’s pockets, with prices increasing in grocery stores.
There Are Already Non-GMO Products: For those consumers that prefer to purchase products that are non-GMO, those already exist. This takes us back to the voluntary GMO labeling point mentioned above.
It will definitely be interesting to see how this debate plays out over the next couple of years. Either way, knowing exactly where your ingredients come from and what each lot shipment’s specs are is important to ensuring you are always in compliance with whatever label you put on your finished products.
TraceGains empowers companies to easily set and maintain their own specifications, and to quickly publish those specifications to their vendors.
What are your thoughts on mandatory GMO labeling? Leave a comment below and let us know.