“Clarity Comes At A Cost”

by Jonah Shepp

James E. McWilliams considers the expenses that mandatory GMO labeling would likely impose on the food industry. “One change seems absolutely certain,” he writes, that the “food system’s foundation would tectonically shift to accommodate dual ingredient streams (if not multiple streams)”:

Understanding the economic threat of segregation requires understanding the ubiquity of GMOs in our food supply. Eighty-five percent of U.S. corn, 95 percent of U.S. sugar beets and canola, and 91 percent of U.S. soy are genetically modified. Up to 75 percent of the processed foods on the market contain genetically modified ingredients. A GMO label—again, assuming at least some change in consumer choice—means that food producers would have to cleave the food system’s supply chain to segregate and audit GMO and non-GMO ingredients.

This would require them to prevent cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops, store GMO and non-GMO ingredients in different locations, establish exclusive cleaning and transportation systems for both commodities, and hire contractors to audit storage facilities, processing plants, and final food products. Surveying the potential compliance expenses based on a failed 2002 Oregon labeling initiative (Prop. 27), the Washington State report estimated that annual costs today would range from $150 million to $920 million. The administrative expenses of auditing alone could reach $1 million. And as for the legal expenses that would arise from suits over contamination: Let’s just say the vultures are already circling.

But what’s especially daunting is that these costs wouldn’t be fixed.

Recent Dish on the GMO labeling controversy here.