Experts to Congress on GMO labeling: First do no harm

David Just is a professor of behavioral economics at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management who has testified on Capitol Hill about agricultural biotechnology and engaged with the media on the need to about injecting unnecessary alarm into GMO labeling efforts. Just will also help instruct a MOOC this fall on “Science and the Politics of the GMO.”


Just says:

“I am glad Congress is considering this issue. There is a danger in states creating labels that mislead consumers into being afraid of something we know to be safe. That is not to say that we can’t label GMOs, just that the labels shouldn’t alarm those who are not opposed to GMOs for concerns that don’t relate to food safety.

“Many GMOs offer big benefits, especially to farmers in developing countries. It would be terrible if we created an artificial barrier to those benefits by unnecessarily scaring consumers away from safe and reasonably priced food.”

. . . . .

William Lesser is a professor in science and business at the Dyson School, and as an independent consultant for the Council for Biotechnology Information has studied the potential cost to consumers of labeling GMO food products in New York state.


Lesser says:

“The implementation of the Vermont mandatory GMO labeling bill on July 1 makes essential some form of federal labeling pre-emption. In its absence the likelihood of a hodgepodge of individual state and local labeling laws would be confusing for consumers and costly for the food system, and ultimately consumers.

“The bill now under review in the Senate would accomplish that objective, albeit with some limitations from the perspective of both the industry and labeling proponents. However, it can be said that any law which fixes any dimension of a fast moving area, in this case the specification of what techniques constitute bioengineering, will soon become outdated. The absence of penalties for noncompliance is an issue, but the use of lawsuits by the many activist pro-labeling groups will lead to general compliance in any case. More significant is the allowance of remote information access through scanner codes and telephone numbers rather than requiring easily recognized labels. Many food consumers will simply not take the time needed to inform themselves about the ingredients of the many food items they purchase.

“Most of these limitations of the current draft have been highlighted by pro-labeling groups. Some of those group nonetheless are disingenuous in presenting their positions. Some claim that labeling will be simple and nearly costless. In truth, the estimated ‘costs’ of labeling are not so much the printing of new labels but the reformulation and stocking of new non-GMO products as consumers shift preferences.

“And is that not the outcome truly sought by many pro-labeling groups, whatever they may say?”


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