This webpage was produced as
an assignment for an undergraduate course at
Debate and Policies on Labeling GM Foods
There are a lot of different views on this topic and therefore there is a lot of debate. Below, the major points on both sides of the debate are outlined. There will also be a section discussing some surveys that have been taken in different countries.
The biggest pro cited by advocates
is that labeling gives consumers a choice in what they are eating (Biotechnology Issues, 2001). Another argument is that labeling would deter
“further market and trade disruptions” (Biotechnology
Issues, 2001). Those pro labeling cite
the lack of willingness to clearly label GM foods as meaning that GM producers have something to
hide and the industry does not support consumers making an informed decision
(Hunter, 2000). Advocacy groups and
individuals alike want the
Some of the proposals offered by
those who want mandatory labeling will waste money, unnecessarily alarm
consumers, and delay advances in biotechnology.
Also, the availability of detection methods is limited and there is the
potential for discrimination against producers or GM-friendly countries. What people don’t often realize is that the
consequences of imposing labels can be expensive (Reiss, 2002). In the
One alternative offered is to allow
restaurants and companies to label voluntarily.
Consumers who really want GM free foods will choose to buy or eat at
those establishments and incur the cost.
Most consumers, however, will not put forth the effort to do this (Reiss,
2002). Mandatory labels are not
economically or physically feasible, nor are many voluntary labeling proposals.
Labeling could deter consumers from buying GM foods and then they would
disappear off the market. There are not
many “economic incentives for firms to provide GM labeling information.” If
labeling is considered a good political move, governments will force the
labeling of GM foods and the cost will be passed to consumers (Smyth and
Phillips, 2003). Voluntarily or
mandatory, labeling would cause a segregated market. Segregated markets would not be good in the
long run because they would cause a rift in the supply and demand curve and the
overall effect would be less quantity and higher prices in both markets (Biotechnology Issues, 2001). The
Multitudes of surveys have shown
Americans to be in favor of GM labeling (Genetic Engineering Network, 2003). While
94% of Americans want labeling, the numbers on mandatory labeling or the avoidance
of labeled foods varies from survey to survey (Hallman, Hebden, Aquino, Cuite, and
Lang, 2003; Genetic Engineering Network, 2003).
Although an overwhelming majority of Americans want labeling on GM
foods, before GM foods were mentioned, less than 1% mentioned GM ingredients as
something they would want to see on food labels (Hallman, Hebden, Aquino, Cuite,
and Lang, 2003). This brings up an
interesting point: Do Americans really know what GM foods are? A survey among Americans shows terms like GM,
non-GM, and GM–free do not provide sufficient information to consumers, and
many Americans do not understand those terms.
It is not the same in all
countries. In a study in
One must be leery of any surveys presented on either the pro or con side. “Environmental groups and critic of biotechnology claim that >95% of consumers responding to surveys indicate that they want GM content to be labeled, but surveys for the biotech industry show that only 2% of unprompted consumers ask for GM labeling” (Smyth and Phillips, 2003). It really depends on how the questions are worded and the company paying to have the survey done.
This page was created by Nicole Hesson.
If you have questions, comments, or concerns, email the editor.