Research & Commentary: GMO Labeling Laws Are Harmful and Unnecessary

Published June 1, 2016

Vermont’s genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling law is set to take effect on July 1, 2016. This law requires any food, except meats and cheeses, containing genetically modified ingredients to carry a label notifying the consumer it is a GMO product. This will make the Green Mountain State the first in the country to have an active GMO labeling law on the books. Connecticut and Maine have previously passed GMO labeling laws, but both contain triggering provisions. Connecticut’s labeling requirement won’t take effect until four other states do, and Maine’s won’t be required until the rest of the New England states require GMO labels.

Proponents of GMO labeling laws believe genetically engineered (GE) food could possibly be dangerous for human consumption and that labeling products help consumers make better informed, healthier decisions about their food choices. Because creating two sets of labels – one noting GMOs, one not – is costlier to businesses than having one uniform label, Vermont’s law could become a de facto national law. It also raises the possibility of businesses, such as Hershey, purposefully changing the ingredients of their products to avoid being saddled with a GMO label.

The most recent, thorough review of the evidence – published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on May 17 – found GMOs are not dangerous. According to the Academies report, GMOs are perfectly safe to eat and are just as safe for consumption as non-GMOs. The report also finds “no conclusive evidence of cause-and-effect relationship between GE crops and environmental impacts.”

These findings are backed up by hundreds of independent studies, and the Academies’ opinions on the safety of GMOs are shared by the World Health Organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Council on Science and Health, the American Society for Microbiology, the Royal Society of Medicine, the French Academy of Science, and the Union of German Academies of Science and Humanities, among many others.

“There is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods,” writes the American Medical Association. “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.” 

“The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups,” the European Commission notes, “is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are no more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies.”

Labeling laws for GMOs are unnecessary and work to normalize the belief GMO products are harmful. As William Saletan writes in a thorough article on GMOs in Slate, “GMO labels don’t clarify what’s in your food. They don’t address the underlying ingredients – pesticides, toxins, proteins – that supposedly make GMOs harmful. They stigmatize food that’s perfectly safe, and they deflect scrutiny from non-GMO products that have the same disparaged ingredients … The deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. … They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.”

There is no compelling reason for any state to develop and pass GMO labeling legislation, and the costs associated with GMO labeling will end up being passed on to consumers.

The following documents provide more information about GMOs.

An Overview of the Last 10 Years of Genetically Engineered Crop Safety Research
This article published in Critical Reviews in Biotechnology reviews the scientific research on genetically engineered (GE) plants published over 10 years. The authors find there have been no significant environmental or health hazards caused by GE crops. 

A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research (2001–2010)
This report from the European Commission is a second volume of results taken from studies conducted on numerous aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It is part of an initiative launched by research programs 25 years ago in response to concerns from policymakers and the public regarding the safety of GMOs. This publication presents the results of 50 projects, which involved more than 400 research groups and represented European research grants totaling over EUR 200 million. The report’s authors say GMOs are “no more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies.”

Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects
This comprehensive study – conducted by the Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops, which is under the authority of the National Academies of Sciences – found no evidence new technologies in genetic engineering pose greater risks to human health or the environment than conventional crops. However, the study found GE crops have had economically benefitted farmers in their early years of adoption and likely produce some environmental benefits.

Estimating the Global Economic Effects of GMOs
This essay published in Agricultural Biotechnology: Markets and Policies in an International Setting illustrates the usefulness of “quantitative models for informing the GMO debate.” According to the authors, “the present paper draws on recent studies … that use empirical models of the global economy to examine what the effects of widespread adoption of genetically modified crop varieties in some (non-European) countries might be in light of different policy and consumer preference responses.” They find the potential economic welfare gains from adopting GMO technology is significant, and the extreme use of trade restrictions on GMO crops would economically be very costly.

Mischa Popoff: Leaving the Organic Food Movement
In this edition of the Heartland Daily Podcast, Mischa Popoff, author and policy advisor at The Heartland Institute, talks with H. Sterling Burnett, managing editor of Environment & Climate News, about Popoff’s history as an organic farmer and his time as a government organic food inspector. He explains why he abandoned the organic movement and why organic farmers should embrace GMO foods. According to Popoff, biotech foods can be the ultimate organic food.

Excessive, Wrong-Headed Regulation of ‘GMOs’ Stifles Innovation and Slows Economic Growth
This Forbes article by Henry I. Miller explains how under the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service plants made with the newest, most precise genetic engineering techniques have been subjected to unnecessary heightened regulation, independent of the risk of the product. As a result, the cost of discovery, development, and regulatory authorization of a new genetic trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 averaged $136 million, far more than the costs for plants with identical traits but made with less precise, less predictable cross-breeding techniques.

Stunted Harvest
The author of this article, published by the Cato Institute’s Regulation magazine, talks about how reforming regulations governing agricultural and medical innovations produced through the use of biotechnology and genetic modification is difficult but necessary.

Standing Up for Science
This article, published in Nature Biotechnology, discusses how radical environmentalists are increasingly using fear to generate publicity and using transparency campaigns to smear, harass, and intimidate researchers involved in biotech research and disrupt their work. The author argues demagogues and anti-science zealots succeed when they are able to extract a high cost for free speech, coercing the informed into silence.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

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