There has been a lot of talk about whether or not food suppliers should be required to label foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). Consumer demand for this type of labeling seems to be growing along with an increased interest in learning how food gets from farm to table. The heated debate over so-called pink slime ought to be proof of that. Two opposing schools of thought prevail in the labeling debate. One line of thinking says science is on our side and that GMO has been around for a while now without any proven human health issues. The other side will tell you genetic engineering has no place in the food system, and foods containing GMO must be labeled so consumers can be better informed when making purchases.
If you’ve read this blog for very long you could probably correctly guess that I lean towards the science side of the issue. I would also argue that some of the loudest voices asking for labels to be required hope that GMO gets banned all together and believe organic production is the only way to go. Some proponents of biotechnology think labels would be just fine because labeling would help prove the safety of genetic engineering in the minds of eaters. Now although I believe biotechnology to be a safe and important agricultural tool I can also understand that consumers want to know what they are putting in their bodies. Animal husbandry expert Temple Grandin is in the news right now telling producers the general concerns of the population must be balanced with good science. She has taken some heat for that stance, but she is right. At the end of the day consumers are the ones who are able to vote with their dollars in the marketplace, and that alone should demand the attention of food producers.
I’m not saying good science should be thrown out the window. We farmers and ranchers need to be out front saying why we use the methods that we do as a way of informing consumers.
About Those Lables
We may not currently have a standard in the United States that requires foods containing GMO to be labeled as such, but we do have standards in place to prove that organic foods are in fact organically produced. One might think we don’t need GMO labels if food can be labeled certified organic. It’s not that easy. Obtaining and maintaining that certification takes a lot of hard work and planning. I have heard of farms that for all intents and purposes are organic or awfully close, but the last few steps to get certified may be cost prohibitive. It’s no wonder organic food often carries a premium price tag. There are plenty of foods that are neither GMO or organic. The popcorn on our farm falls into that category of not using GM seeds but not using organic production methods either. For me this presents a labeling conundrum.
I can easily see companies with products like popcorn jumping on a marketing bandwagon if GMO labeling became a requirement. Packaging for these foods could have bold markings claiming “GMO Free!” in very much the same fashion I discovered in the peanut butter aisle. Even if there is no such thing as a GMO almond (an assumption so correct me if I’m wrong) I can envision them being labeled GMO free anyway. I wouldn’t blame a company for trying to differentiate their product from the competition, but I think that kind of marketing is just a bit disingenuous.
Unfortunately, I see a potential problem with label laws. Would labeling GMO foods inadvertently raise the cost of these middle of the road foods? I think labeling laws could do just that. In my mind if one has to label a GMO product wouldn’t one also have to prove a product does not contain GMO in order to avoid the label? And wouldn’t that come at some additional cost which you and I know would be passed on to consumers? The obvious solution would be to just avoid the whole situation by tossing a label on the package that says “May contain genetically modified ingredients.” Even if you know your product is free of biotech will it always be worth it to prove that? If you can’t be organic and don’t want the extra cost and hassle of proving without a doubt you’re GMO free what else can be done?
The reason I put ramblings in the post title is due to the fact these thoughts really are just my ramblings. I purposely haven’t consulted any labeling experts or sought out any specific blogs posts or studies with links about what effects may or may not result from labeling. These are just my thoughts of the moment and I’d really appreciate your thoughts in a comment below. I’m thinking out loud with a keyboard. If we’re lucky maybe a real expert will appear!