Time to embrace universal labelling

A report from the State of Washington noted that a referendum on the labelling of food products containing GM ingredients was defeated

A report from the State of Washington noted that a referendum on the labelling of food products containing GM ingredients was defeated, albeit by a somewhat narrow margin.

Millions of dollars were spent by both sides in the campaign to convince voters of the benefits — or not — of GM labelling. The battle has raged across the U.S. for years, with the no side winning, but by slowly decreasing margins.

The rationale for or not to GM labelling has been well-documented, but it has boiled down to ideology and ulterior motives, with the consumer/voter probably more confused than enlightened. The maddening reality to this issue is that no matter which side wins or loses, it has nothing to do with food safety — no human health will be affected.

I would suggest that two trends have developed and that perhaps the issue is becoming irrelevant to consumers/voters — time has a habit of creating that inevitability. The inconvenient reality for the pro-GM labelling side has been that as time goes by, the majority of manufactured food products either have some GM ingredients or are exposed to them at some point in the manufacturing or consumption process.

That reality would mean that if GM labelling became mandatory, it would have to be almost universally applied to most food products that are available today.

I suspect most folks don’t read product labels, and if GM contents were included, those that did read them would become blind to the wording, being it would be everywhere.

Sort of like the universal wording “vitamin enriched” — does anyone care or notice those words.

The other reality is that with so many GM products being made available, finding a product without them would be difficult and more costly — neither of which appeals to the vast majority of consumers. That would negate the underlying intent of the pro folks who presume consumers would rush out to find non-GM food products once they were shocked to do so by the mere sight of a GM food label. Like organic, fair-trade, and free range labels that only motivates a minority that has the money to spend on lifestyle foods.

I live in a very large working-class area of Calgary, where the food business is dominated by giant big box chains. The lifestyle food sections are miniscule — consumers here buy on price and volume and most wouldn’t know if they tripped over it — nor would they care.

What is curious is that there are a few food products that actually have the label, “Does not contain GM ingredients.”

One would assume that such “does not” labelling would be a compromise — considering that consumers who are phobic about GM would want to go out of their way to find such labelled products.

That may be common sense, but that’s not the real goal of the zealous groups who lobby so vociferously for GM labels on almost everything. That’s why you don’t see them encouraging consumers to look for the non-GM label.

In much of Europe, GM products are not available because timid governments are afraid of the anti-GM lobby, who have been successful at implying that GM foods are akin to toxic waste. Those same lobby groups that want GM labelling here would fight such labelling in Europe, if such food products were available, being it would give consumers over there a choice.

Most marketers and lobby groups would know that the consumer votes with their wallets, and European consumers would surely buy cheaper GM food products if they were available.

I give full credit to the science companies that have battled for the no label side. Such help was needed in the early days — otherwise, we would have ended up with the GM paranoia situation that has developed in Europe.

I am suggesting that maybe the time has come for the no side to change their tactics — that being embrace universal GM food labelling.

I suspect it will have little impact on consumer buying practices.

For the pro labelling side, such a step might actually not be all that helpful, as it would dry up their campaign and fundraising business from this issue.

A classic case of, “Be careful what you wish for.”

— Ahead of the Heard