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Debate: Mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods

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Should genetically modified foods be labeled?

Background and context

Genetically modified foods have been a concern for many people around the world. Europeans have been the most vocal in their opposition of biotechnology for several years. The European Commission has proposed mandatory labeling for genetically modified foods that contain even a single ingredient with one percent genetically modified material. The main argument is that they are a risk to human health, due to unforeseen effects of genetic modification. The general idea behind labeling of genetically modified foods is that it makes consumers aware of which foods are genetically modified and which ones are not, so that if they object on a personal level, that they can avoid consuming them.


Risks: Are GM foods a health risk?

Pro

  • Labeling gives consumers a choice on consuming GM foods. Craig Holdrege. "Why don't we label genetically modified food?" The Land Institute. October 18, 2002: "When you buy reconstituted orange juice at the supermarket, the label tells you it is 'from concentrate.' For this you can thank the Food and Drug Administration, with its mandate to promote 'honest and fair dealing with consumers.' [...] Part of the idea is to ensure that foods are truthfully labeled so producers cannot deceive consumers. Labels must include information about amounts, contents, additives such as vitamins and preservatives, and processing methods ('from concentrate'). [...] So why is your bag of corn chips containing genetically modified corn silent about this fact?"
  • Labeling respects opinion of those not wanting to consume GM foods. Many people are highly opposed to consuming genetically modified foods. The government must respect that opinion, and give these individuals the ability to avoid GM foods, simply by labeling GM foods so that they can make such a choice. To not mandate this is to disregard and disrespect these opinions.
  • GMFs cause life-threatening allergies "Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?"(Released April 2000)by Deborah B. Whitman:"Allergenicity -Many children in the US and Europe have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. A proposal to incorporate a gene from Brazil nuts into soybeans was abandoned because of the fear of causing unexpected allergic reactions31. Extensive testing of GM foods may be required to avoid the possibility of harm to consumers with food allergies. Labeling of GM foods and food products will acquire new importance, which I shall discuss later."
  • Labeling helps inform consumers of potential risks of GM foods. There are certain risks surrounding the consumption of genetically modified foods. These generally surround the use of various bacterias in the construction of new strains of foods, which if consumed, and potentially have harmful effects on humans. Labels help inform consumers that a particular product has such modifications and caries such health risks, so that if they are strongly concerned about GM foods, they can be sure that they are eating 100% natural foods.
  • Labeling GM foods applies precautionary principle to unknown risks. Many things are not known about the effects of GM foods. It is appropriate, therefore, to be cautious. Labeling of GM foods fits into this principle of caution in the face of unknowns. In particular, it gives consumers the choice to avoid GM foods if they think these unknown risks are intolerable.
  • GM labeling improves confidence in food safety measures. "Importance of labeling GM foods". GM.org: "Importance of labeling GM foods. An effective and successful labeling strategy for GM foods is impossible unless we develop precise traceability mechanisms to identify where GM ingredients are in the food chain. Regulatory and scientific inability to map out GM food products from fields to tables may act to lessen public confidence regarding food security. So in order to increase consumer confidence and trust in GM food products, information about improved traceability methods should be provided."
  • Labeling GM foods responds to market failures. Labeling GM foods responds to market failures to sufficiently protect consumers against the potential risks of GM foods. Food production companies themselves will not respond sufficiently to these problems. The government must step in on its own and ensure labeling and the protection of consumers.
  • Labeling helps protect the legitimate place of GM foods. Labeling may actually be critical in protecting what might be called the "legitimate place" or niche for genetically modified foods, such as the use of GM foods to help end malnutrition in some countries. Without such labeling, public anxiety and fears are likely to grow over their inability to avoid the potential harms of GM foods. With such labeling, those that want to avoid the food can do so and will not cry out as loudly about GM foods. This will help protect the more legitimate role of GM foods from growing public fears and criticism.


Con

  • Labeling of genetically modified foods is costly. Labeling of genetically modified foods costs money. It is not free. It requires that all companies be regulated, that they ensure that they have or do not have a certain level of GM ingredients in their foods, and that labels be placed on these food products. This would be very expensive.
  • Labeling of genetically modified foods increases food prices. Labeling of genetically modified foods makes it more expensive for many food companies to produce their foods, as it requires that they regulate their food production, check to ensure that they are below the GM food level. This means that the ultimate food product must be priced at a higher level for consumers, to compensate for their added expenses in complying with labeling.


Risks: Are genetically modified crops an environment hazard?

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