Should food that has been genetically optimized have a special label attached to it by law?

Advocates say 'yes', it is about awareness, though actual implementations and efforts from California to Vermont are not about awareness, since they have made sure to exempt numerous products - everything from restaurants to alcohol to food at a deli need not have a GMO label. If the cows that make the milk that go into Stonybrook Farms yogurt eat GMO feed, the yogurt is just as organic. 

As it should be. To science, organic and genetic modification are simply different processes. Nothing about a cow munching on genetically modified food changes the milk.

But proponents want the public to think there is some material different in genetically modified corn or beets and anything else. 

 At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 29th, The California Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing  on the proposed Senate Bill 1381, which would require labeling of genetically modified food in California. Its verbage is similar to the failed Proposition 37 and the recent Vermont bill - numerous unscientific exemptions but the rationale that people need to know.

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technologies (CAST) has issued a new report titled “The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Foods in the United States,” which examines the scientific, legal and economic ramifications of requiring that food containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled as such.

Noting that such labeling would be based not on differences in the content of the crop or food product but on the way it was produced, Van Eenennaam and her co-authors conclude that there is no scientific reason for singling out the process of genetic engineering for mandatory process-based labeling. They maintain that voluntary labeling programs, such as the Non-GMO Project, motivated by market influences rather than government regulation, currently provide interested consumers with the choice to select non-genetically engineered foods in the United States.

They suggest that state-based labeling laws may run into legal challenges related to interstate commerce, international trade, federal authority over food labeling and First Amendment protection of “commercial speech.”

In terms of economics, they project that mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods would increase U.S. food costs. Just how much food prices might rise would depend on how food manufacturers and retailers respond to mandatory labeling.

The authors project that the impact on food prices would be substantial if food processors decide to switch to non-GMO ingredients to avoid labeling requirements, as has been the case in other countries following the introduction of mandatory GE labeling. The cost increases would be less if processors instead opt to label all of their food products as containing genetically engineered ingredients.

The paper concludes with a call for more independent, objective information to be provided to consumers and legislators on the scientific issues, legal ramifications and economic consequences of mandatory labeling, especially in states that now have labeling initiatives on the ballot.

"Mandating process-based food labeling is a very complex topic with nuanced marketing, economic and trade implications depending upon how the labeling laws are written and how the market responds,” said Alison Van Eenennaam, geneticist and Cooperative Extension specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of the paper.