Editor's note: Every Monday we offer pro/ con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune news service to give readers a broad view of issues.
Traditionally, the government has mandated labeling standards to warn consumers of potential hazards, such as smoking's link to cancer and lung disease, and a high-fat diet's link to numerous medical problems.
Requiring the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods, on the other hand, is a solution in search of a problem.
Advocates of GM labeling cling to the naive fiction that genetically modified foods are foreign and untested - unnatural products of wild-eyed scientists. The reality is that most of what we eat has been scientifically improved in some way.
In fact, the labeling question was vigorously debated in the 1990s, and it was determined that labeling of new GM products would be required only if the foods themselves posed a safety concern, not because they differed from more conventional products produced in the usual manner.
The first GM products were introduced in the United States around 1994; and by 1999, approximately 60 percent of all produce found in the typical grocery store was grown using GM seeds.
Today, 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries grow GM crops. And numerous studies continue to confirm the safety of such products.
U.S. regulators should not adopt costly labeling requirements just to satisfy scientific illiterates - or to show their solidarity with the heavy-handed regulators in Western Europe.
The European Union, to its discredit, has effectively placed a stranglehold on genetically modified and bio-fortified foods. But it's paid a high price for its restrictive policies, reducing potential agricultural output by an estimated 440 million to 900 million euros annually.
The EU also has chosen to forgo two other benefits of GM crops: the fact that less chemical pesticides and less mechanical cultivation are needed in their production - both of which have significant environmental benefits.
In terms of health and safety, many people seem to have blinders on when it comes to food, assuming that conventionally produced foods by definition are wholesome and safe, while genomic varieties require extreme oversight.
Yet, virtually all of the food safety problems we have encountered in recent years can be traced to conventional farming, including unsafe feed practices for poultry, salmonella in eggs, dioxin-tainted beef, Listeria-infected yogurt and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (or mad cow disease).
GM labeling is a solution in search of a nonexistent problem. It would be far better policy for companies to label the minority of products that appeal to anti-GM consumers than to try to implement mandatory GM labeling.
Susan Kling Finston is a former executive director of the American BioIndustry Alliance. Website: www.finstonconsulting.com