Consumer Concern #1 - Food Labeling

Labeling Foods with Biotech Components

The guidelines the FDA finalized in 1992 require foods grown using biotechnology, or foods containing ingredients that were derived from biotechnology, to have special labels if (2):

  • A known food allergen has been introduced
  • The nutritional content of the food has been changed
  • The product’s composition has been substantially changed.

As educators, counselors, and professionals it is important to be aware of the consumer issues regarding labeling. Being aware of these issues will allow proper and truthful education to consumers.

Pro-labeling Arguments

  • According to opinion, Americans feel that as consumers they have the “right to know” whether the food and products they will be purchasing are from genetically modified crops or is the produce of animals fed genetically modified feed (10,11).
  • Consumers with food allergies, or diseases such as Celiac disease, fear that foods they were normally able to consume might now, via biotechnology, contain a protein that elicits an allergic reaction, or exacerbates their disease condition. So labeling would allow these consumers to be informed.
  • Consumers are concerned about the potential environmental effects of biotechnology, such as harm to wild life (i.e. butterflies), or pesticide resistant insects and weeds.
  • Consumers want to avoid eating animal products, including animal DNA, for ethical or religious reasons. And some consumers find it unethical to move genes between different species.

Anti-labeling Arguments

  • Labels on genetically engineered (GE) food imply a warning about health effects. No significant differences between GE and traditional foods have been detected.
  • Labeling of GE foods would impose an added cost to consumers.
  • Consumers who want to buy non-GE food have an option to purchase certified organic foods which cannot include GE ingredients above defined threshold levels.
  • Labeling could potentially limit the ability of products to gain market access and therefore may, at times, act as a technical barrier to trade, resulting in a limited market size for GE products.

Discussion Question :

What is one criteria the FDA has established for labeling foods produced through biotechnology? Why would a consumer want food labeled?