More than 25 states have pending legislation or ballot initiatives to label retail food products that contain biotech ingredients, including corn and soybeans. The patchwork of proposals is confusing, and so is farmers’ future reaction to them.

Stakeholders claim varied state biotech food label laws could increase food production costs and red tape, reduce seed choices and drag farmers into lawsuits.

“While some proponents of biotech labeling claim it is a right-to-know issue, others – and particularly those who fund these efforts – are open about their intention of mandatory labeling as the first step on the road to ending agriculture’s use of biotechnology,” says Michael Dykes, Monsanto vice president of government affairs.

Your planting choices could be dramatically affected. In 2013, USDA estimates 90% of the corn crop and 93% of the soybean crop were planted with biotech seed.

“Farmers, food producers, grocers and retailers would have to implement separate and distinct systems to grow, handle, record, process, transport and sell products in those states,” says Karen Batra, director, food and agriculture communications, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

This would ultimately create millions of dollars in costs that would be passed on to consumers as higher food prices, Batra says. Studies have found that mandatory labeling would increase food costs for the average American family by more than $450 per year.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has long held no need for special food product labeling exists, unless there's a meaningful difference in nutrition or food safety.  But rather than take "no" for an answer, anti-biotech groups are pursuing labeling on a state-by-state basis.  Dykes says as a result, federal attention to the issue is growing.  Congress has voted twice in the last two years by 3-to-1 margins against allowing states to label on the basis of biotechnology.

states debating biotech labeling legislation