Impact on Consumers
Not so, counters Yes on 37. A report prepared for the group by Joanna M. Shepherd-Bailey, Ph.D., of Emory University School of Law, concluded that the measure would produce minimal expense for redesign of package labels and display of placards in grocery stores: “At most, the average California household will see total annual food expenditures increase by a one-time cost of $1.27 to offset these labeling expenses.”
That rosy assessment rests on relabeling being a tiny one-time expense, and assumptions that many sellers are unwilling to incur costs associated with repricing, out of fear of losing customers, and that physical and management costs are significant enough to deter price hikes.
But retailers wouldn’t be the key factor driving price increases. A better argument for a smaller price impact comes from Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D., senior scientist with the Food and Environment Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He told GEN that GMO products such as high-fructose corn syrup or lecithin from soy beans or soy oil account for small percentages of ingredients in processed food.
“Even if you doubled the cost, which it wouldn’t, it might be 10% higher or something for those ingredients, or 20%; even if you doubled it, it still would only impact these foods as an ingredient cost by a much smaller amount, probably several cents on the dollar,” he said.
Dr. Gurian-Sherman added that most costs involving processed foods stem from factors beyond the ingredients, such as processing and marketing.
“If they fluctuate in price a lot, and I don’t expect them to very much, that would only still have a tiny impact on the ultimate price that a consumer pays,” he added. “There may be some whole products like soy bean oil that may go up somewhat, possibly if they have to source it from non-GMO sources. I think it’s very speculative and hasn’t seemed to occur in places like Europe.”
For GMO food, Dr. Gurian-Sherman added, recent price spikes stemmed more from this summer’s drought and the 40% set-aside of corn for ethanol than genetic engineering.
Yes on 37 faults the pro-GMO coalition for assuming worst-case that all food companies will substitute for GMO ingredients either organic or nongenetically engineered (GE) ingredients, since EU food producers didn’t do so when labeling came to the EU more than a decade ago.
“The American response to labeling of GE foods will likely be dramatically different,” Dr. Shepherd-Bailey wrote, rebutting Northbridge. “America has also embraced GE farming in ways that European farmers have not. Whereas the U.S. grows approximately 50% of GE crops worldwide, GE crops cover only about 0.12% of Europe’s agricultural land, and the entire European continent accounts for just 0.08% of the area growing them worldwide.”
A key reason why: The EU imposed a GMO crop ban in 1998, which the U.S. successfully challenged. The EU imposed labeling after the World Trade Organization lifted the prohibition in 2003.
Meanwhile in California, estimates vary on how much food is subject to the measure, from 34% (No on 37) to 42% (Yes on 37). Exempt from labeling are meats (including poultry), fish, dairy, medical food, alcoholic drinks, and food prepared for immediate consumption such as by restaurants.