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Report Tallies Dollars and Cents of GE Food Labeling

PHOTO: Will groceries cost more in Oregon if Measure 92 passes? A comparison of studies concludes listing genetically engineered ingredients on food labels would cost $2.30 per person, per year. Photo credit: Mangostock/iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Will groceries cost more in Oregon if Measure 92 passes? A comparison of studies concludes listing genetically engineered ingredients on food labels would cost $2.30 per person, per year. Photo credit: Mangostock/iStockphoto.com.
October 2, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - A Portland-based research group has "studied the studies" about what it may cost consumers to label genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in foods sold in Oregon - and the answer is, 'not much.'

An increase in food costs is one of the primary arguments being made by food producers and agribusinesses that oppose Measure 92, so the firm ECONorthwest looked at more than two dozen studies on GE labeling.

Bob Whelan, director and senior economist at ECONorthwest, says not all of the studies mentioned cost, and the estimates from those that did ranged from 32 cents to $15 per year. He says his group calculated the median figure.

"I guess in theory you could skip labeling food altogether and save a few dollars a year on groceries," says Whelan. "But consumers value information, and when you cut through all the research, it's quite clear - the cost of changing the label is about $2.30 a year."

The $2.30 figure is a sharp counterpoint to anti-Measure 92 ads, which claim farmers and food producers will have to spend millions of dollars to adapt their processes to accommodate GE labeling. Food industry-funded studies have estimated the additional annual cost per person at $100 to $200.

The labeling cost research was done for Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.

Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives with Consumers Union, says food prices aren't the primary concern for her group, which is backing Measure 92 in Oregon and similar pushes in Colorado and other states.

"Given the minimal cost to consumers, the increased herbicide use involved in growing almost all genetically engineered crops, as well as the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to require human safety assessment before these foods reach the marketplace, we believe genetically-engineered food labeling is important," she says.

Halloran adds the new research doesn't address potential costs if food companies decide to reformulate their products, or opt to store GE and non-GE products differently. Neither of those efforts is a requirement of the ballot measure.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR