That's an easy question to ask and a very difficult one to answer. There are some circles that would lead you to believe that it’s a simple matter of putting the acronym "GMO" on a label. For people who haven't followed a corn or soybean seed from the field to the fork, it would seem to be an easy thing to just "put" on a label. For those of us in farming, we know that it’s not so simple and would have a catastrophic impact on our family farms if it passed. There is nothing simple about the food supply chain, from a commodity grain grown in my field to a food ingredient used in a baked good, cereal or other item on your grocery shelf. My blog, The Cost of GMO Labeling, will give you a view of the impact of how grain is handled, from our farm perspective, and the infrastructure that would be required to accurately put the acronym "GMO" on a label. It would mean nothing short of a recapitalization of our entire farming infrastructure system, and conversion from commingled to segregated grain tracking along the entire food supply chain. It would be extremely expensive for farmers to add storage, and that's the perspective from which I wrote my blog.
“The potential economic impact of state and other initiatives that would mandate labeling for the presence of GE ingredients in foods has also been of much interest. Opponents of mandatory GE labeling schemes have argued that they would be paid by all consumers, including those who do not wish to avoid GE. Proponents have argued that the implied costs would be minimal. Indeed, a handful of studies has sketched out the potential costs of the mandatory labeling initiatives in California and Washington. The results have varied from more than $1 billion per year to a few thousands of dollars (Alston and Sumner 2012; Robertson 2013).
“The widely differing calculations in the estimated costs of the proposed mandatory labeling schemes are explained by fundamentally different conjectures about the responses of key players in the food supply chain and the changes they could bring about in the U.S. food market. Much depends on how food manufacturers, food retailers and other food merchants would choose to act if mandatory GE labeling were put in place. On the one hand, they could choose to maintain the current composition of their products, placing GE labels on them when necessary. On the other hand, they could choose to change the composition of their products in order to avoid the use of GE labels.
“The reactions of food manufacturers and retailers could be shaped by expectations of negative consumer response toward GE labels (Marchant, Cardineau and Redick, 2010), targeting of their products by activists (Gruere and Rao, 2007), exploitation of GE labels by competitors (Kalaitzandonakes and Bijam, 2003) and concern that a mandated label might be mistakenly interpreted by consumers to confer a food safety warning (Marchant, Cardineau and Redick, 2010). If manufacturers choose to maintain their products and place labels on them, the cost impact of mandatory labeling would be the relatively minor cost of the ink to print new labels and the more significant costs associated with tracking and monitoring to ensure compliance. If manufacturers choose to substitute GE ingredients with non-GE ingredients to avoid labels, the cost impact of mandatory labeling would be substantial and associated with new product formulation and sourcing non-GE ingredients.”
This excerpt is from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) Issue Paper “The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States” (Van Eenennaam, Chassy, Kalaitzandonakes and Redick, 2014).