Even with California’s Proposition 37 failing last November (for good reason), mandatory labeling of biotech foods remains a hot topic. New labeling initiatives are underway in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and several other states. While some of the language in these initiatives differs from that of Prop-37, the true motivation behind them is the same: unnecessarily scaring consumers away from biotech foods.
While we support transparency with consumers, which is what the “Right to Know” camp boasts is their noble purpose, simply slapping a “GMO” label onto food does not provide any meaningful information. What’s even worse, for a campaign centered on the idea of public education, they supply a disappointing lack of factual information; WA state’s I-522 even gets the basic definition for genetically engineered foods incorrect on their campaign website!
We at Okanagan Specialty Fruits are often asked for our thoughts on the labeling debate since Arctic® apples will be one of the only biotech foods to be voluntarily labeled. Why are we doing this? First and foremost, we are committed to transparency. We believe that consumers have the right to decide for themselves if they are interested in nonbrowning apples. A label clearly designating truly nonbrowning apples as “Arctic” will make it easy for consumers to discern their choice (our research shows most will seek out Arctic® apples!).
Interestingly, a 2012 survey asked a random sample of 750 U.S. adults what types of food they are avoiding and what additional food labels they’d like. In response to these open-ended questions, zero said they were avoiding biotech foods and only 3 percent said they would like to see biotech foods labeled. A similar UK survey published last week found that just 2 percent of consumers looked for information about biotech-enhanced content when buying food products.
Regarding current labeling practices, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers a comprehensive food labeling law which ensures consumers are informed of a products’ nutritional content and potential health risks. The FDA engages in a voluntary review process that evaluates biotech products, but deregulated biotech crops – meaning those that make it to market – are deemed similar to their conventional counterparts. As Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agrees, this sameness between conventional and biotech crops means labels in nutritional content or health warnings aren’t necessary. Further, for the minority who truly want to avoid all biotech foods, though there’s no evidence-backed reason to do so, can always choose certified organic.
For products like Arctic® apples, there is a noticeable value-added trait that impacts consumers, so it makes perfect sense to label them. An “Arctic” label provides real information because anyone who doesn’t already know how they differ from conventional apples can easily find out all the specific details they want. A “GMO” label, on the other hand, would be completely useless and fear inducing, just like all these mandatory labeling initiatives.