I had the opportunity to work with a journalism student from Sheridan College. She asked some really great questions about genetically modified organisms and I provided some answers. Q.4 Should labeling GM foods be mandatory in Canada? There is a private member bill that has been introduced to label GMOs in Canada plus 24+ legislative (municipal and state level) initiatives currently on ‘the books’ in the US. This whole issue of labeling is not going away anytime soon. The problem is that the issue is often oversimplified in the media. It’s not as simple as slapping a label on a can and calling it a day. Mandatory labeling invokes traceability within the food system. And no matter what the headlines say, that means costs. When people think GMOs and labeling, they most often think big seed companies (like Monsanto) and big retailers (like Walmart). The ag and food production value chain is long and complex, comprised of many different actors including producers/farmers, elevator managers, grain distributors, seed companies, food processors, transporters, wholesalers, retailers, restaurants, etc. If governments were to enact mandatory labeling , costs would be incurred throughout that value chain (all actors). And those costs would be passed onto the consumer. In addition to increased food costs, mandatory labeling of GMOs would have other effects. According to the results of a recent study conducted by MIT professor Juaniuan Zhang, consumers assumes that the government knows more than they do about the safety of the food supply. So, if the government requires labels on food, consumers will suspect that there is something wrong with it. Thus, a GMO label runs the real risk of looking like a warning label. On a related note, our current food labeling system (regulated by the federal government) operates on some fundamental tenets. First off, labels on food products are reserved for foodstuffs that carry a documented health risk (eg. allergen) or in cases where products represent a substantive change in nutritional composition. Scientific evidence affirms that GMO foods are indistinguishable from foods produced through traditional methods (see studies mentioned above). Labeling them for consumers (mandatory) would be misleading. Labels, by law, cannot be misleading. The other argument here is that if people wish to avoid GMOs, they can. There are third party certified labels for “non GMO” (The Non GMO Project) and you can always choose to buy “certified organic” (US and Canada). So, a GMO label seems a bit redundant. Now, voluntary labeling on the part of the food industry is a whole other issue. Some argue that industry should have been more proactive long ago and incorporated what is referred to as “positive” labeling strategies for products with GMO ingredients. It may have mitigated some of the controversy that has gone on for the past 20 years. This voluntary labeling thing is not out of the realm of possibilities for now either. But the devil will be in the details. How and what to label is the real question. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. Here’s two sides to the issue that are very illustrative and from people that I view as evidence-based and ‘reasoned’: Check out Mark Lynas’ take on labels and his argument for ‘transparency’: http://www.marklynas.org/2013/10/why-we-need-to-label-gmos/ Also, I like this post by my colleague Chris MacDonald on “Right to Know What I am Eating” on his blog “Food Ethics”: http://food-ethics.com/2010/09/28/the-right-to-know-what-im-eating/
 There are often statements in the media “If you are so proud of your products, Monsanto, why don’t you label them?” This shows that people really don’t have an understanding the ag and food value chain. These companies (like Bayer, BASF< Dow, Monsanto, etc) market to farmers. Period. And those seeds (if they are genetically engineered) are VERY WELL labeled as such. Now, the reason that these big companies get involved in funding “say no to GMO labels” is because they are supporting and advocating for the interests of downstream industry actors (like food companies). They are also taking into consideration what impacts labeling would have at the farm, elevator, transport levels too. Segregation costs (and other administrative and management costs) are big costs.
 At the government level, these costs would be incurred by the public purse, of course.