Conservatives Earning "Gut-Free" Label

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An interesting article at Forbes provides an illustration of the futility of not standing up for principles. Omri Ben-Shahar of the University of Chicago chides both sides of the GMO food labeling debate for having "nothing to do with information." One one side of the debate are anti-GMO Luddites who hope to use mandatory labeling laws to sow unfounded fears about foods made from genetically-modified organisms. On the other side, where there should be champions of technology and limited government, are instead people who let the Luddites set the terms, but pretend to be clever by playing word games:

... GMO foods could be equally exposed by voluntary labels: You can tell if a product contains GMOs by requiring an affirmative label, but you can also tell if others are labeled "not containing GMOs." The "not containing" labels need not be required by the government -- they pop up in the market. Think of "organic," "fair trade," "low fat" -- all voluntary labels. Without any labeling requirement, the non-GMO label is gaining following by the likes of Whole Foods and Chipotle, and could be just as damaging to GMO food production.

This is where Congress' bill became crafty. It defined "non-GMO" in a highly forgiving manner, far from what GMO purists would have liked. For example, meat produced from livestock that consumed GMO feed, or products manufactured using GMO microorganisms could still count as non-GMO. If such Corporate non-GMO labels populate the supermarkets, they would neuter the entire labeling apparatus. The label would lose much of its meaning. Historically, this is exactly what the law did to the "organic" label. Once, organic was a staple of farmer market quality. But after the definition was politically regulated, organic became Corporate Organic, watered down by exceedingly lenient standards, monitored by a board with strong industry ties. [bold added]
As I noted several months ago:
[T]his bill will lend the government's implied credibility to the ridiculous anti-GMO position in addition to having a "standard" in place in the event there ever are enough Congressional votes to pass a national GMO-labeling law. This is on top of it simply being wrong for the government to tell people how and how not to label their own products. Fraud is already illegal, and independent standards bodies can research and rate brands for the existence of real and imagined hazards for those concerned about them.
Ben-Shahar rightly notes in closing that the battle for GMOs "should be won by showing the evidence, by explaining the merits of bio-technology, and by discrediting the false notion that there is something nasty to 'know' about GMO food." That battle is hard enough in our current culture, which is rife with scientific illiteracy and poor grounding in rational thought, but it is made harder by politicians who fail to question the propriety of the government serving everyone as a surrogate brain.

Were food labeling not regulated, watchdog organizations, much like Underwriters Laboratories or the Consumers Union would necessarily step in, and would have to establish credibility and compete for attention. It would also follow that more people would have to think a bit more for themselves regarding what they deem healthy to eat. If conservatives really cared about freedom, the economy, or technology, they'd spend less time decrying "ideology" as such, cowering behind word games, and hoping for the best every time a leftist misinformation campaign came along. Instead, they repeatedly fail to make a stand for limited government and keep wondering why regulations grows like weeds and people keep calling them "cronies." 

-- CAV

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