THE BLOG
12/01/2014 08:53 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

Food Labeling Fatigue

The Republican's significant victory at the polls wasn't the only shock on Election Day. Both Oregon and Colorado voters voted "no" on a ballot initiative that would have required certain labels on food products that contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Many have Monday morning quarterbacked just why these initiatives failed. Was it voter apathy? Or maybe--as Jimmy Kimmel exposed on his show just before Election Day--people simply don't know what the acronym GMO means? Or perhaps voters had more pressing concerns on their minds, like jobs, healthcare, or another food related issue--spiking prices at the grocery store.

These are all plausible explanations, yet I have another theory. Perhaps voters have a sneaking suspicion that government-mandated GMO labels are completely unnecessary.

Joyce de Brevannes, one of the leaders of the anti-GMO movement, admitted this (I think, unintentionally) in an October guest blog for the Huffington Post. In it, de Brevannes boasts that her organization -- The Non GMO Project -- has verified more than 22,000 GMO-free products on the market today. Impressive for sure! And for convenience, the organization even provides a handy and free smart phone application so that consumers can check the GMO status of a product as they shop. And there are dozens of similar smart phone applications from which consumers can choose.

Further damaging her argument for a federal labeling mandate, de Brevannes then goes on to tell consumers how they can easily avoid GMOs without special labels, explaining how many grocery retailers (even mainstream stores) have voluntarily decided not to sell GMO products. In other words, consumers can simply choose to shop at one of these many stores. Although de Brevannes forgot to mention it, GMO-wary shoppers can also look for a label already mandated by the federal government--the "USDA Certified Organic" label, which certifies that the product is free of GMOs.

One other item de Brevannes (and many of her anti-GMO colleagues) fail to mention is how a federally mandated GMO label will affect the average American family's budgets. Perhaps that detail is so often passed over because activists do not want hard working Americans to know that they come at a high cost. According to a Cornell University study, an average family's food costs would spike by $500 per family, per year.

That might not seem like a lot of money to glamorous anti-GMO activists like Gwyneth Paltrow and Barbara Streisand, rock star Adam Levine and sitcom star and Hollywood oddball Charlie Sheen, but for the average family struggling in this puttering economy, $500 is a lot to pay for a meaningless food label.

Another problem with GMO labels is that they simply don't offer clarity or specifics about which ingredient is genetically modified in a final food product. For example, on a bag of tortilla chips, is the GMO ingredient the corn, or is it the canola oil used to fry the chips? Adding to the confusion, in Colorado and Oregon, nearly two-thirds of the foods in those states that contain GMOs were exempted from the labeling law. What's more, an item considered a GMO in Colorado might not be categorized as one in Oregon. This means consumers will be given non-specific, misleading, unreliable and incomplete information.

Voters are also beginning to turn away from these ballot initiatives because they have "label fatigue," brought on because food activists demand warning labels more and more these days against seemingly everything. For instance, there are demands that soda carry warning labels about the product containing "toxic" sugar. So much for a Coke and a smile! Others demand warnings about gluten. Restaurants are now required to provide calorie and nutrient information on the menu. Even the nutrition labels themselves are under scrutiny with some activists demanding a total overhaul, some demanding small changes, and still others asking for front-of-the-package labeling.

Anti-GMO activists claim that these ballot initiatives are all about people taking charge of the food they eat and being able to make informed decisions. If that were true, these groups would continue to push technological advances - like smart phone applications - that give people the power to do their own research. But clearly "making informed decisions" isn't the goal. Instead, it's about controlling people's choices by removing certain items from the marketplace by killing certain industries - in this case the biotech industry - with regulations.

Food activists are free to pursue ballot initiatives. They are free to harass food manufacturers into compliance with their many outrageous demands. But voters should know that this comes at a cost--to large and small food companies, farmers, and mostly it costs you, the consumer.

Julie Gunlock writes for the Independent Women's Forum.