As part of their disinformation efforts, anti-biotech campaigners continue to argue that consumers have a "right to know" that the foods they are eating have been developed using modern biotechnology. The anti-biotechies hope that consumers would mistake such labels as warning labels and thus avoid buying such foods. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires labels on foods that describe nutritional differences or warn against such things as the presence of allergens. Since there is nothing to warn consumers about, foods using ingredients from biotech crops do not require labeling.
The editorial board of the Washington Post has published a sensible opinion article today arguing "we don't need labels on genetically modified foods." From the Post:
Mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution. Congress is right to be moving toward a more sensible policy that allows companies to label products as free of GM ingredients but preempts states from requiring such labels. …
Promoters of compulsory GM food labeling claim that consumers nevertheless deserve transparency about what they're eating. But given the facts, mandatory labeling would be extremely misleading to consumers — who, the Pew polling shows, exaggerate the worries about "Frankenfood" — implying a strong government safety concern where one does not exist. Instead of demanding that food companies add an unnecessary label, people who distrust the assurances that GM food is safe can buy food voluntarily labeled as organic or non-GM.
This isn't just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety. If GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world's poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.
A House bill introduced last week would facilitate a voluntary labeling system and prevent states and localities from going any further to indulge the GM labeling crowd. It would also empower the Food and Drug Administration to require labels on GM products that materially differ from their non-GM cousins in ways that can affect human health. Yes, food industry interests back the bill. That doesn't make it wrong.
See my article, The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops, for more background.