Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food production have been arousing debate for years. The multifaceted topic has many angles from which it can be analyzed: from the economic benefits of GMO use to the potential health risks it implies. Now, with the establishment of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) that requires mandatory compliance from January 1, 2022 (Department of Agriculture 65814), the polemic around labeling GMO products has garnered more attention. The various factors one should take into consideration when discussing GMO labeling include the economic consequences, consumers’ right to know what is in their food, and their perception of labeling.
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One of the reasons GMO labeling should be mandatory, according to its defenders, is to prevent possible health issues caused by the consumption of GMO food. Although science has yet to prove the negative influence of GMOs on human health, their effects might be unpredictable and far from salutary. For instance, there is a concern that GMO products might “contain allergenic substances due to the introduction of new genes into the crops or animals” (Klich and Monarkh 246). Thus, many people are not willing to jeopardize their health, and mandatory labeling would help them avoid that.
Moreover, it can be argued that it is consumers’ right to have ready access to all the information regarding the ingredients of the food they buy, regardless of their influence on health. As long as there are consumers who want this information, the manufacturers should provide it. The premise that unless there is a likelihood of health complications, the access can be denied is a false one.
On the other hand, one of the arguments of the opponents to GMO labeling is its economic implications. Manufacturers and consumers alike will have to bear the costs. The new labeling will imply higher expenses on the production side, which in turn will drive the retail prices up. The higher prices and the negative image surrounding GMO-labeled products might result in a shift in the market, and subsequently, in a reduction in investments within the sphere of biotechnology (Domingo 155). Thus, the economic impact GMO labeling can have far-reaching negative consequences.
In addition, there is a concern that GMO labeling will create public confusion, seeing how not all consumers might understand labeling or what GMO implies. According to NBFDS, there is a number of disclosure options, which include symbols, electronic or digital links, and text messages (Department of Agriculture 65828). Therefore, the consumers who cannot use QR-codes, for example, will find themselves at a disadvantage. Furthermore, as brands that do not use GMOs continue pursuing their agendas, further stigmatizing GMO products, some consumers might start avoiding GMO labeled foods altogether.
There are many factors that fuel the debate between the opponents and proponents of GMO labeling. On the one hand, one has to consider the potentially pernicious effects of GMOs on health, as well as the consumers’ right to know what is in their food. On the other hand, there are additional labeling costs and the lack of understanding of the labeling system that might generate confusion and, ultimately, have a negative impact on the biotechnological sphere of research. The ongoing debate around GMO labeling raises people’s awareness about food production and consumption. It promotes self-education regarding GMOs because as more manufacturers implement GMO labeling, the decision of whether to opt for a different product will be left to consumers.
Domingo, Jr, Danny Santos. “Consequences of GMO Labeling.” Horizons, vol. 5, no. 1, 2020, pp. 151–157.
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Klich, Jacek and V.V. Monarkh. “GMO and Health Risks Selected Issues.” Agriculture and Forestry, no. 14, 2020, pp. 245-254.
United States, Department of Agriculture. National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. Agricultural Marketing Service, 2018.