The Politics Blog

Wash. Academy of Sciences report on GMO labeling says I-522 would raise food costs

Staff writerOctober 9, 2013 

A new report by the Washington State Academy of Sciences says there may be consumer costs associated with passage of Initiative 522’s requirement to label genetically modified foods. Dubbed a “white paper, the report was released Wednesday by a panel of scientists assembled by the academy to review I-522 and answer five main questions in connection with the measure, which would mandate labeling for most foods and seed products. 

The report is in response to a request from the state Legislature earlier this year. It shies away from making a firm statement about exactly how much food costs might be increased – only that higher costs are likely. The panel of researchers was co-chaired by Thomas Marsh, an economics professor at Washington State University, and Eugene Nester, a professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Washington.

Proponents of I-522 funded by organic food firms have cited studies claiming no higher costs are likely (most recent report is here), while opponents funded by national food and agribusiness interests cite a study claiming food costs would go up about $360 a year initially for a family of four and by $490 after 2019. The two sides are making their rival arguments in television ads as the Nov. 5 election approaches.

“Mandatory labeling, especially at a state versus federal level, is likely to affect trade and impose higher costs on firms pro¬ducing and selling products in Washington,” the report’s executive summary says in a section describing the I-522 impact on policy and trade. “These costs are likely to be passed on to the consumer resulting in higher food prices. Importantly, these costs will be borne by firms and consumers for both GM and non-GM foods as labeling foods as non-GM will require oversight costs.”

Although it does not state a cost impact, the report does say, “The costs of actual labeling are a tiny fraction of the costs of compliance and certification.” And it notes that the “bulk of private costs arise in segregation of products along the supply chain.

The report also addresses some but not all of the scientific issues surrounding GMO genetically engineered food product:

To date, no statistically significant, repeatable long-term adverse health effects from GM products on the domestic market have been documented in the scientific literature. Nevertheless, continued surveillance of long-term health effects from GM foods and food from conventional breeding is warranted [1]. Improving testing protocols and risk assessment approaches are prudent and consistent with this message. Some authors argue that most scientific investigations are short-term studies, mostly nutritional studies, with limited toxicological information [2, 3]. Therefore, long-term, thorough, and case-by-case scientific studies are recommended, for both GM plants and plants obtained by conventional breeding methods.
We wrote about some of those scientific concerns two weeks ago in this story.  

In a news release, the academy  added:

“While there are no significant, repeatable studies that demonstrate any adverse effect on health due to approved and marketed foods with GM ingredients, the challenge of ‘proving safety’ as opposed to evidence of the lack of adverse effects was acknowledged by the committee. Continuous monitoring of food safety, consistent with national approaches, was recommended as a basic requirement for both foods with and without GM-based ingredients.”
Stay tuned.

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