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GMO Labeling -- Hard to Find Truth in Cost to Consumers?

How much money does it cost to tell consumers the truth?

In the current battle over whether or not foods made with genetically modified ingredients must be labeled, the answer to that question is not easy to come by. Supporters of GMO labeling say the costs associated with implementing labeling will be nearly nonexistent -- possibly $2.30 a person per year -- a pittance for information that some consumer groups consider critical health and safety information. But opponents of labeling say the costs could be much higher; so high that they could be crippling to some families.

A Feb 21 report funded by the Corn Refiners Association, said the cost could be as steep as $1,050 per U.S. family, or up to $82 billion annually. The economic analysis was conducted by John Dunham of John Dunham & Associates, a former senior economist with the Philip Morris tobacco company. "These regulations will lead to food price increases that all Americans -- including the poorest -- will have to pay," Dunham argues in his analysis.

Consumer advocacy groups were quick to discount the report. "The food industry is once again attempting to scare consumers and legislators in order to get their way," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety, said in a statement.

Just how costly GMO labeling really might be, or might not be, is likely to be part of the discussion on Thursday when the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry takes up the bill introduced last week by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that would block any state from implementing mandatory GMO labeling. The law would most immediately impact consumers in Vermont, where mandatory GMO labeling is set to take effect on July 1.

A similar measure called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act by supporters, but referred to as "Deny Americans the Right to Know" or the DARK Act, by GMO labeling supporters, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 23.

The Corn Refiners group, whose members include Archer Daniels Midland Co., and Cargill Inc., has a vested interest in the labeling issue, to be sure: Roughly 92 percent of all the corn planted in the United States in 2015 was genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But that ominous figure of $1,050 is a key lobbying point for a much broader food industry fight. The $1,050 figure accompanies a bold warning of "48 Million Americans At Risk From Food Insecurity" atop the Coalition for Affordable Food website, and consumers are told that "TIME IS RUNNING OUT." The coalition, which includes a long list of organizations representing agribusiness and food industry interests, encourages consumers to contact Congress and support the Roberts bill, which would provide for national labeling on a voluntary basis only.

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