The Cost of Mandatory GMO Labeling

Not five minutes after posting on the potential effects of mandatory labeling genetically modified foods in California, I came across this release summarizing the recent work of Dan Sumner and Julian Alston, both agricultural economists at UC Davis. 

The bottom line: they estimate that Prop 37, if passed, would cost Californian farmers and food processors $1.2 billion. 

Although I understand the appeal of the “right to know” argument to the average consumer, what is less clear to me is why labeling of genetically modified food should, on economic grounds, be mandatory.  If the information is valuable to consumers, firms and farmers can profit by providing it.  And they have! 

There are already many voluntary labeling programs consumers can use if they wish to avoid biotechnology including organic and certified non-GMO labels.  Of course, these products are more expensive than conventional products – but that’s because they are more costly to produce.  But, it simply isn’t true that Californians do not have a choice to buy GMO or non-GMO foods.