In previous posts on food labeling I've discussed food labels and the information they provide as well as possible reasons why a private GMO label hasn't already appeared. In this post, I'll discuss the reasons commodity groups are in favor of federal GMO labeling legislation.
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) recently introduced legislation that would establish federal guidelines for GMO labeling. The law would preempt state mandates for GMO food labels and start an educational campaign for the public on the safety of GMO foods.
The question isn't whether farmers, food companies, and retailers believe the guidelines are good for them financially but whether these guidelines are better than the relevant alternative. I'd wager that food companies would, in an ideal world, prefer to label their food in a manner that maximizes their profit.
Since that world doesn't exist, and there's a credible threat that interest groups in some states will successfully pass legislation mandating GMO labels, federal preemption of such laws is preferable. For producer groups, federal preemption makes it less likely that potential discounts on conventionally-produced food will be passed on to them. Additionally, the cost of educating consumers will not be borne by food companies, retailers, and farmers but by taxpayers.
As I argued in a previous post, the tremendous cost of educating the public on the safety of GMO foods is one possible reason why we haven't seen widespread efforts by food companies or third parties to create a GMO labeling scheme. Another possible reason is the presence of substitute labels. Many consumers who are concerned about the safety of GMO food might be content buying food labeled "organic."
The more I think about it, though, the more I'm convinced that the main reason we haven't seen a third-party, private effort to create a GMO label is that the public generally trusts only the federal government to ensure food safety. It's true we have all sorts of private labels informing consumers of the characteristics of the food they buy, but safety is a separate issue in most people's minds.
The new legislation introduced is likely to be a net benefit to farmers, food companies, and retailers. They'll be shielded from the risk of more onerous regulation at the state level and won't have to bear the cost of educating the public about GMO safety. This makes the bill, from their points of view, relatively good regulation.