The impassioned quest to label foods made with genetically modified organisms is heading for the states. “Don’t think that it’s not coming to you,” warned Hawaii Attorney General David Louie at a meeting of state attorneys general. They certainly understood. In 2014 alone, 25 states have proposed 67 pieces of legislation related to GMO labeling. After near misses in California and Washington, advocates recently ushered a labeling initiative through Vermont’s more receptive legislature. Maine and Connecticut have also approved labeling laws, although they are contingent on further regional support. Whether the labeling debate continues to play out on a state-by-state basis, or the federal government eventually intervenes, chances are good that we’re looking into a future food supply dotted with mandatory GMO labels.
But clarity comes at a cost—and how much cost is the subject of intense debate. Those opposed to labeling for financial reasons rely primarily on a report prepared with industry support by the Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants. It concludes that labeling “would have a substantial impact on California consumers” by altering “how many of the foods they eat are produced.” Changes in production, it explains, “would make that food more expensive.”
Labeling supporters point to a study commissioned by the Alliance for Natural Health, a U.K.-based organization dedicated to “promoting sustainable health and freedom of choice in healthcare through good science and good law.” This report claims “consumers will likely see no increases in prices.” Reflecting this polarization, a host of additional studies estimate that food costs could rise anywhere from a couple of dollars per person to 10 percent of a family’s food bill.
It’s certainly possible that food will be reorganized into three general tiers—GMO, non-GMO, and organic—with non-GMO food moving toward the more expensive organic option while GMOs, which will be seen as less desirable, drop in price. However it happens, a cost-free label is a happy thought. But until the label becomes the law, and until consumers are set free to cast their votes in the aisles of the marketplace, we’ll have little more to go on than tea leaves. And until they are genetically modified to be more accurate, I’d prepare to pay more for food.