In 2013, genetically engineered (GE) varieties accounted for 95 percent of sugar beet, 93 percent of soy, and 90 percent of all cotton and corn acreage in the United States, according to a new report from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). Ingredients from GE plants have for years been commonly used in foods around the world. About 70 percent of processed foods in U.S. supermarkets contain some GE ingredients, and yet at least 25 states have considered proposed legislation to require GE labeling of foods.

The report, titled “The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States,” was released this week. The authors use the term genetically engineered or GE in place of the more common term “genetically modified organism” or GMO, noting that conventional breeding methods modify organisms, making the term less accurate.

The task force that developed the report,  led by University of California-Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD., included food scientists, economists, legal scholars and agricultural experts. They examined a range of issues, including public opinions, legal implications of consumer choice and right-to-know and food-safety implications.

Groups in favor of GE labeling generally make their case based on two points: First, that consumers have a right to know what is in their food and how it is produced, and secondly that GE foods could be unsafe.

The report’s authors note the right to know what is in food is different from the right to know how it was produced. Furthermore, this uniquely singles out GE technology – not other production methods and processes – for right to know.

They also note that GE crops are extensively tested, and over the past 20 years, the FDA has found that all 148 transgenic gene/crop combinations evaluated by the agency, including all biotech crops commercialized to date, are equivalent to their conventional counterparts. Japanese regulators independently reached the same conclusions for 189 submissions they reviewed, covering a wide range of plant species and introduced traits.

A handful of widely publicized small studies have claimed to find some adverse health impacts of GE foods on animals, the authors say, but these studies have been retracted and/or severely criticized by government and mainstream scientific organizations as poorly designed and unreliable.

The authors conclude the following:

  1. There is no science-based reason to single out GE foods and feeds for mandatory process-based labeling.
  2. Mandatory labeling based on process abandons the traditional U.S. practice of providing for consumer food preferences through voluntary product differentiation and labeling.
  3. Market-driven voluntary labeling measures are currently providing consumers with non-GE choices.
  4. Mandatory labeling could have negative implications for First Amendment rights and trade issues.
  5. Mandatory labeling will increase food costs.

View the full report from CAST.