Food for Thought: Why a True Free Market System Would Embrace GMO Labeling

By Michael Baker

The battle over California’s Proposition 37 is heating up like a bunch of steamed broccoli, and the agriculture industry is hoping nobody will notice.

Prop 37 would require that all genetically modified foods sold in the state be labeled as such.  Polls show that the measure has nearly 3-to-1 support.  But opponents are not shutting the fuck up without a fight.  They argue that and requiring GMO’s to be labeled would only scare consumers away from perfectly safe products and harm the agriculture industry.

The irony in all debates regarding product labeling is that “free market” types will tend to oppose labeling, while “regulation of commerce” types will tend to support it.  This just goes to show how bastardized our current conception of a free market economy has become.  A free market implies not only that business can function as they see fit, but also that consumers are free to make their own decisions.  The end result is that the stuff we like gets to stick around, and the stuff we don’t like has to go away and stop bothering everyone.

Somewhere in the political shuffle, we’ve lost sight of the fact that a free market implies that consumers know what they’re getting.  How can you say that I’m really buying what I want when I don’t really know what I’m buying?

For what it’s worth, the anti-37 crowd is probably correct that many consumers will be put off by a label telling them that they’re getting Frankenfood.  But a label on every genetically modified food product in the nation’s largest state will also show consumers how many GMO’s they’ve already been consuming without even knowing it.  That may cause a stir at first, but it might ultimately lead consumers to consider the scientific evidence showing that many GMO’s are [probably] not harmful, and ultimately to conclude what the agriculture industry has been saying for years – that GMO’s are A-OK.

And what if consumers freak out and decide to stop buying tomatoes the size of a baby’s head?  Well, if that’s what happens as a result of people knowing the facts about what they’re buying, then isn’t it what we want?  To argue against Prop 37, you have to argue that the agriculture industry knows what’s good for its customers, even when those customers would disagree.  In addition to being insulting to the public at large, that’s a pro-Big Business approach that’s completely antithetical to the concept of free market.

A true free market implies transparency and freedom of information.  I would agree with the “free market” supporters who say that Big Business should be unleashed, if only they could agree that I get to know what I’m buying.