Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Debate on Labeling GM Food

The Diane Rehm Show on NPR recently featured a debate on whether companies should be required to label genetically modified food (GM food or GMOs) on their packaging.  This episode was particularly interesting to me because one of the panelists was Thomas P. Redick, principal at the Global Environmental Ethics Counsel and general counsel for the United Soybean Board.  I know Mr. Redick as he and I  are both officers on the American Bar Association's Agricultural Management Committee.

Gary Hirshberg, president of Stonyfield Farms, was also on the program. He stated:

Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly want labeling. Thomson Reuters, in a poll actually commissioned by NPR a year ago, showed over a sample of 3,000, showed 93 percent of consumers desiring foods to be labeled. Lake Associates, Consumers Union, MSNBC, there's endless polls. All of the numbers come in at well over 90 percent. This is not a small debatable number.
Mr. Redick reponded that such polls may not be as clear cut as suggested:
[T]here's a good group called IFIC International Food Information Council that did a survey that's not designed to get a result. I mean, in these surveys that Gary mentioned they say, wouldn't you like to label gm foods, and that's a very leading question. If you ask the question, what would you like to see on a label that's not already there, genetic modification is very low on the list. So we view the survey as designed to get a result.
Mr. Redick also suggested that requiring labeling of GMOs would inevitably lead to higher costs for consumers:
And because companies would then have to change the labels and then they would voluntarily source non-GM inputs to avoid the label, it will drive more folks in the chain of, say, corn chips to purchase a non-GMO corn. And then, the non-GMO corn goes up in price because of demand. That's certainly the case in any nations they've implemented labeling. 
Well, there's over 40 nations actually that have labeling laws. The Institute for -- IFPR, International Food Policy Research did a study that showed not many of these are actually being implemented. Where they are being implemented, significant costs are incurred and it raises the price for those who can least afford to pay for the food.
Continued reading or listen to the complete discussion at  The Diane Rehm Show website.

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