Market-driven approach better than laws for GMO labeling, UNPA says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Non-gmo project verified, Gmo labeling, Genetically modified organism, Organic food

Sourcing non GMO ingredients can be a challenge in the current market, with 95% of US corn grown from GMO seed.
Sourcing non GMO ingredients can be a challenge in the current market, with 95% of US corn grown from GMO seed.
A market-driven approach that allows consumers to opt for foods made without genetically modified ingredients is preferable to mandatory labeling via either state or federal statutes, according to the United Natural Products Alliance.

In a statement outlining the Salt Lake City-based trade organization's position, which it announced today, UNPA president Loren Israelsen had this to say:

“In principle, we support the expression of citizens in states to drive a non-GMO agenda, with the understanding that if a number of state labeling initiatives are successful, it could create a complicated regulatory problem for well-intended companies that want to comply.

“We believe that a consumer-driven market solution is the most efficient way to address the GMO-labeling issue, whether it manifests as a ​non-GMO or ​contains-GMO label structure,”​ Israelsen said.

Market advantage?

The position UNPA advocates is similar to the one that exists at the moment for organic labeling.  Companies that choose to go through the USDA’s organic certification procedure can use an organic claim on their labels, and seek those consumers for whom organic products are a priority.

UNPA’s position aligns it with other industry thought leaders who have put forth the idea that if consumers are as ardent about their right to choose as advocates for mandatory GMO labeling claim, then proactively labeling products should provide a marketing advantage for those companies willing to find sources of non GMO ingredients.  Indeed, this seems already to be happening on one level, as the use of the Non-GMO Project Verified certification on products is the fastest growing certification of its type in the food and dietary supplement industry. And in June, the Non-GMO Project Verified label received approval of a non-GMO label claim for meat and liquid egg products from the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that regulates such products, the first government-approved GMO label claim.

Legislative approaches

Currently there are a number of GMO labeling laws making their way through state legistatures, and in April a national GMO labeling bill was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR.  The bill stood little chance of passage on this first introduction, but is a bellwether of the growing pressure on the issue.

The Food and Drug Administration could in theory move on its own to make a rule regarding GMO labeling.  But back in the days of the first genetically modified food to reach market—Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato—the agency ruled that GMOs are not substantially different from conventional foods as far as health and safety are concerned and so did not need to be labeled as such. Israelsen said the agency is unlikely to reverse this position.

While not advocating for a patchwork quilt of different state laws on the issue, UNPA said in its statement that state initiatives, such as Washington's I522, which will be on the ballot in November, are important and should be supported by industry to help prompt interest and advancement of a commercial process that will drive acceptable labeling protocols for impacted industries.

Nascent market-driven approaches

The organization said this growing interest will help promote market-based models, such as the recent solution by Whole Foods Market. The retail chain pledged that all products containing GMO-based ingredients in its 350 stores would require labeling by 2018. Other retail and restaurant operations are following suit, including the nearly 1,500-outlet Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has a goal to eliminate GMO-based foods altogether. The Trader Joe's food chain was out ahead on this issue, having eliminated GMOs from its product inventory in 2001.  At the Institute of Food Technologists trade show last week in Chicago, a number of sources said that demand for Whole Foods- and Trader Joe's-compliant ingredients is rapidly rising in the marketplace.

“These are all solid examples of the marketplace finding viable solutions to this issue, and many more thoughtful initiatives are likely to surface,”​ Israelsen said. 

Related topics: Markets, Regulation, Going non-GMO

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7 comments

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Don't make my food more expensive!

Posted by Seth Olson,

I agree with Loren completely. The fact is without real scientific data to prove that GMO foods are in fact unsafe, then any State laws forcing companies to incorporate GMO labeling will likely fail. Without a safety risk, companies have a commercial speech right not to label. (This has already happened in VT in the 90's with regard to cows and labeling antibiotic and hormones).

Secondly, forcing companies to label their products as GMO would be extremely expensive and put several small businesses out of business. Added regulations always increase the cost of business. So forcing every food and supplement company to label their products as GMO would drive all of this cost on to the end consumer and drive up food costs all of the country. Only a small percentage of the U.S. population even cares not to each GMO foods. While GMO labeling legislation is well intended, the fact is there isn't enough scientific data to prove that GMO food is unsafe.

A market approach meets in the middle. For those that think this is an important topic, they by all means can find and support businesses that market non-GMO foods. And for the rest of the country that doesn't care, their food prices aren't going to sky rocket.

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Market driven approach will fail!

Posted by David Smith,

With regard to GMO labeling, most countries (64) have mandatory GMO labeling compared to voluntary labeling (3). There is good reason for this since voluntary labeling has been shown not to be effective in providing discerning consumers with a choice between GM and non-GM.

A study in South Africa showed that 56% of products labeled as ‘GMO free’, ‘non-GM’ or ‘organic’, contained genetically modified ingredients - 31% had more than 1% GMO while 20% had above 5% GMO content (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814608007632). What this simply means is that a ‘consumer-driven market approach’ to GMO labeling does not work. If the GMO labeling is not regulated it will result in misleading GMO labels – especially to indicate the absence of GMO.

This does not mean that mandatory GMO labeling will “create a complicated regulatory system” as suggested by Isrealson. Notably, developing countries including Brazil, China, India and South Africa, all major GMO producers, apply mandatory GMO labeling without complicated or expensive to implement regulations. I’m sure that if developing countries can get it right than so can the US.

The greatest concern by the Biotech industry is that mandatory GMO labeling will result in negative attitudes towards GMOs. There is no evidence for this. In fact, 11 out of 28 major GMO producing countries in the world have mandatory GMO labeling. In not one of these countries have consumer perceptions toward GMOs become negative as a result of GMO labeling.

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Shear nonsense!

Posted by B,

I find it quite amazing to note how Organic producers have to jump through tons of hoops and pay high fees to achieve the organic label. Meanwhile, GMOs have ZERO regulations and fees to be produced into food that people eat. Shouldn't it be the exact opposit? YES, it should indeed. Meanwhile, GMO products are showered in caustic chemicals or harbor chemicals in their genetic makeup. If we think we can just take these GMO products home and wash the toxic materials off, we might as well live in Lala land with Peter Pan. Washing does nothing more than get dirt or field grime off, chemicals residues don't come off, they get swallowed with every bite you eat. Instead we make it difficult to near impossible for most well intentioned farmers or food producers to find and grow organically produced foods through the high fees and rigorous standards meant to keep ORGANICS on the fringes. Since GMO standards are so laxed, or realistically dont exist at all, we have no way of tracking whether there are problems associated with GMOs. There are no data bases or researchers following any groups of human beings to detect whether there are problems. So, when we hear that GMOs are completely safe for human and animal consumption and that there are no reports of any side effects from GMOs, we have the absolute right to say to ourselves and others that these GMO products should be more highly scrutinized and labeled so GMOs can be tracked more easily and parents can avoid limiting their child's life. It seems the ordinary citizen is being fed a platter of deceit.

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