mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Enviro-Mental
Here Comes GMO Labeling

Democratic Senators introduced a bill this week that would force companies to label any genetically modified ingredients in the food they sell. The Hill reports:

The Biotechnology Food Labeling and Uniformity Act unveiled Wednesday would require manufacturers to disclose the presence of genetically modified organisms on a product’s Nutrition Fact Panel. Manufacturers, though, would have a choice in how they comply.

They could choose to put the words “genetically engineered” in parentheses next to a relevant ingredient; identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation for the asterisk at the bottom of the ingredients list; or apply a catch-all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering” ingredients.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley defended the legislation, saying it was “a way to give consumers the information they are asking for.” There’s probably some truth to the claim that the public is clamoring for the information: the environmental movement has succeeded in villainizing GM technologies to the point that many are convinced that these crops are somehow harmful for human consumption. Science says otherwise, but greens have never been a group to let facts get in the way of a good scare tactic.

But if we’re going to start labeling foodstuffs with asterisks or cautionary statements warning of GM ingredients, shouldn’t we take this to its logical end and start warning shoppers that the corn, or the apples, or tomatoes, or just about any of the produce they have been buying all their lives, has been genetically engineered by centuries of selective cultivation?

There is admittedly a lot of wiggle room in this compromise bill, but ultimately a compromise with Luddite, anti-science green dogmatists is not a compromise worth making.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Pait

    If the people want a table, and there is no way to make sure the labels have any meaning except for legislation, why should one oppose it? I agree that science does not indicate that GMOs have dangerous consequences, but that is not a very relevant test. It would be insane to ban GMs with basis on irrational fears, but mandate labels and let the public decide, why not?

    • Blackbeard

      Because, sadly, people are generally ignorant, lazy and easily manipulated. The Greens, with the happy collaboration of the media, have convinced most people that “natural,” whatever that means, is good and “artificial” is bad. And genetically engineered (“Frankenfoods”) is the height of artificial.

      And economists wonder why our economy is stagnant and productivity is lagging.

      • Pait

        It may well be that people make uniformed decisions. That’s to a large extent what is behind advertisement, trying to convince buyers that if only they bought a certain brand… The principles of free market are all about allowing people to decide. Communism, on the other hand, is all about making the “correct” decisions in the most efficient way. What should we prefer?

        • Blackbeard

          Someone recently did a man-in-the-street interview thing on TV where I live and the question was, would you be OK with your food containing DNA? Naturally people were adamantly opposed.

          Should we label foods containing DNA? Since people seem to be genuinely concerned about ingesting DNA perhaps the labels should be in large red letters?

          • Pait

            That’s a straw man. You’re arguing against something that makes perfect sense by criticizing an exaggerated version that would make absolutely no sense.

            It’s just a label, not a requirement that all foods satisfy some demand. You’re not required to buy organic, or halal, or peanut free, or paleo food. But markets work better if the people who have such preferences can rely on labels to decide.

          • Blackbeard

            My DNA labeling example makes no sense because we, as educated people, know DNA poses no health risks. The average citizen, apparently, doesn’t know that.

            GM food also poses no health risks per the FDA, the WHO, numerous academic studies, etc. Again apparently the average citizen doesn’t know that.

            So, if you agree with the FDA, WHO, etc. that GM food poses no health risks then my example is valid. Since you disagree it must follow that you believe GM food does pose real health risks.

            Can you cite any such evidence?

          • Pait

            Your DNA example makes no sense whatsoever.

            As far as it is known, GMOs do not pose any large risks, but it is not inconceivable that a GMO would. Therefore it is reasonable to allow the consumer to make an informed decision, rather than have a government agency decide for everyone. The cost of doing so is minimal compared to the benefit in terms of proper operation of free markets.

            Of course, if the danger were excessive, then it would make sense to ban a product completely rather than let a few uninformed people put everyone at risk. This would be a case of market failure where society had to intervene strongly. GMOs are not a known danger, so, to repeat myself, it is best to let the consumer decide.

          • Blackbeard

            Sadly you apparently don’t know how to make or refute a logical argument so there is no point in continuing this discussion. I am only replying this one last time so no one thinks I have come to accept any part of your rationale. I don’t.

          • bff426

            The real point of the GMO labeling is to ban such foods. Once GMO labeling is required, activists will pressure food chains and food suppliers to stop using GMO ingredients, and will be calling for boycotts and public shaming until they collapse and give in.

          • Blackbeard

            Exactly.

          • Pait

            And the role of the government is to pass a law preventing this from happening? That’s what’s really being discussed in congress, a bill to prevent states from passing labeling requirements.

    • Jim__L

      Because it’s expensive. People who worry about their monthly food budgets shouldn’t be forced to shoulder the burden of latte-Liberals neuroses about protecting the purity of their bodily fluids.

      • Pait

        That would be a good argument IF labeling were a heavy burden that priced food out of reach of people. There already exist extensive food labeling regulations – calories, nutrients, organic labels, you name it – and there is no evidence that food prices have increased appreciably. In fact food at least in the countries that DO regulate labeling extensively, such as the US, Europe, and Japan – is quite a small fraction of a consumer’s budget.

        The fact that labels allow people to make informed decisions, and thus facilitate the workings of efficient markets, is certainly one of the main reasons. So again, labeling is not a burden – much on the contrary. If you don’t care for that aspect, you are free to ignore it, and pay less for a product with different features.

        • Jim__L

          On the other hand, someone who actually cares about this could pay more for food that companies voluntarily labelled as non-GMO… and leave the rest of us out of it.

          But the Greenies care about the Purity of their Bodily Fluids, and want to impose the price on the rest of us. No thanks.

          • Pait

            No it is not a heavy burden. The point is precisely that people who care will pay more for the product they prefer. But is next to impossible for an individual to check whether the labeling is true and genuine; so a little regulation is needed, otherwise the whole regulation process becomes untrustworthy.

            The same thing happened with the organic label; once it was duly implemented, the free market for differentiated products increased exponentially, with benefits for consumers, who have more choice; companies, that have better profits; and the economy in general. The cost was really minimal compared to the befit to the economy.

            (Sometimes I have the impression that people who say they believe in free markets – I assume that most people in this blog do, not only because free markets make sense but also because otherwise they would spend their time reading other blogs – don’t actually give a fig for the proper functioning of markets and the resulting prosperity; they just want to rant about some great conspiracy that is depriving some middle managers in an uncompetitive firm from a meager raise he didn’t really do anything to deserve.)

          • Tom

            By the logic employed in your last paragraph, you’re a lazy twit who can’t be bothered to do his own work.
            We know that’s not true, so how about you stop psychologizing your opponents?

          • Pait

            Interesting that you reacted to the paragraph in parentheses only, and not to the argument itself.

            It is the truth. And the truth hurts.

          • Tom

            That’s because the argument itself has some level of validity, and should be discussed with more care than I was willing to give at 11:00 at night.
            Your last paragraph, however, and your defense of it, is causing me to shift you from “Person deserving serious engagement” to “Bulverist jerk.”

          • Pait

            Great! You didn’t engage the argument because it is valid, so you decided to troll instead?

            Incidentally, I believe that the argument in parenthesis also has some validity; there seem to be a fair number of cases of people who have a knee-jerk reaction to “liberals”, “greens”, “government”, and who really don’t give a fig for whether markets work and how they can be made to work better by judicious legislation.

          • Pait

            You may want to check Blackbeard’s reaction to the argument in the connected thread to see what I mean by the part of the argument that you objected to. Running the risk of being further accused of psychologizing, I’d say he’s not satisfied with any form of discussion which is not an intellectual incestuous orgy. I doubt he’s the only one.

          • Tom

            Nope, not seeing it.

          • Pait

            I’ll try to draw then. Blackbeard is opposed to labeling because there exist some academic studies saying that GMOs are not dangerous, and throws in a straw man argument, which he himself agrees makes no sense. I say let the market work and consumers decide, and present examples of how labeling actually benefits consumers and producers alike. He gets furious that I don’t agree and trolls off.

          • Tom

            Yeah, I got where you’d get that last sentence about echo chambers. The “mediocre middle manager” comment, however, not so much.

          • Pait

            Incidentally, the people throwing around arguments about how scientists opinion should be respected and honored as truth written in stone and that any suspicion of GMOs is a sign of “greenie” derangement are probably some of the same ones who say that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of scientists.

            That should weaken our trust in their arguments, but perhaps it does not. Oh well.

          • Tom

            Or, perhaps, you should look deeper into the underlying logic. I find that usually helps when I spot what seems to be contradictory behavior.

          • Pait

            Perhaps.

            Os perhaps it’s what I tried – the logic is defense of ideology; reason, not so much. That could explain a lot of tolerance for contradiction.

          • bff426

            Yet those same people claim that the safety of GMO, proven overwhelmingly, is a conspiracy of scientists and food companies. So who’s deranged?

          • Pait

            I do not think they are the same. The anti-GMO conspiracy theorists are more along the lines of anti-vac crowd.

            Also, it is not true that safety of GMOs have been proved overwhelmingly. It most certainly is possible to genetically modify an organism to make it dangerous. What is true is that the GMOs that are available as foodstuffs do not seem to pose an undue risk as far as it is know – quite a different statement.

          • Jim__L

            Should government money be spent on enforcing Kosher labels?

            Truth in advertising laws are enough. Companies should not be forced to play these games if they don’t want to.

            “This product may contain GMO ingredients”.

            Done.

          • Pait

            I believe that has been discussed in more than one state, but it raises issues of establishment of religion. GMO labeling on the other hand is just a simple, pro-market measure.

            It seems that your argument is more concerned with preserving the advantages of established companies than with the proper functioning of markets themselves.

        • Thom Burnett

          Labeling IS a heavy burden that increases the price of food. Not the cost of the ink or packaging but the cost of testing and certifying. Nabisco will have lawyers and techs with no problem but a small company – say one making cookies locally will find compliance a serious problem and possibly be driven out of business.

          In this case any labeling should be paid for by the people who want it. In other words, label products GMO free if you want. See if it gets you more customers.

          • Pait

            No it is not. They said the same thing about organic food, and labeling only benefits the industry and consumers alike, at next to no cost.

        • JollyGreenChemist

          Onerous labeling of this type merely favors foodstuffs processed by massive corporations, who have the resources to comply. Hit hardest are the small producers. Requiring GMO-labeling will further industrialize food production, something the left supposedly opposes. Once again the left is completely ignorant of the contrary second-order effects of the actions they espouse.

          • Pait

            I suppose the burden is on proving that the labeling is onerous. I think I remember distinctly that similar arguments were made about organic labeling, nutritional labels, ingredients, and all that – but the high costs never materialized. (I believe I wrote something like that earlier in the thread already.)

  • Andrew Allison

    There’s no such thing, including you gentle readers, as a non-GMO. Labeling food as GMO is, like “organic” (any and all living things), is simply a way to discourage the uninformed from purchasing and obtain a premium price for the supposedly but, as noted, no safer or more beneficial product.

  • vb

    Many people would not by a product if it had dihydrogen monoxide in the ingredients list. That’s a chemical–BAD. Frankly, I don’t think most people read the ingredients list. The Greens want something big that they can put on the front of the package and on store signs. If they were serious about informing people, they would insist on references to the science papers that describe how particular things were developed, whether by random mutation, cross breeding, irradiation, or specific gene transfer. It would be so much fun to go shopping in stores where the customers are sitting on the floor trying to read and decide what to buy.

  • Jim__L

    “This product may contain GMO ingredients.”

    Done.

  • PKCasimir

    First. “The Hill” is nothing but a shill for the Democratic Party and makes “The Washington Post” look objective. Second. This is a non-story. It’s a Democratic bill that won’t get through the Senate, never mind the House. Slow news day?

  • Pait

    I’m coming back to this post after realizing that what is really being discussed in congress is a bill to ban states from passing labeling laws. While I agree that the pro and cons of a federal labeling requirement can be discussed, a bill to ban state labeling is a pretty absurd intrusion of government – legal though it may be. Surely if a state wants it should be allowed to require special food labeling, no?

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service