Not Good or Bad But Different: Free Markets, Subjective Preferences, and Labels for Genetically Modified Foods
(2016) 29 Journal of Environmental Law and Practice 347
14 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2016 Last revised: 22 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 19, 2016
Arguments for and against mandatory labels for genetically modified foods tend to be based upon the assertion of public interest. Those who advocate against labels say GM foods are safe and carry significant social benefits, such as increased yields, reduced use of pesticides and enhanced nutritional value. Labels, they say, would discourage people from buying them. Those who favour mandatory labels emphasize health risks, environmental contamination and pest resistance as dangers of an untested technology. This article argues that the most compelling arguments for mandatory labeling are not based upon public interest, but upon consumer autonomy and market competition. Labels require no more than that producers disclose what the buyer is purchasing. They increase the efficiency of the market, meaning simply that demand and supply are aggregate reflections of individual wants and voluntary contracts. A government that genuinely endorsed consumer choice and free market values would require GM foods to be labelled whether they are harmful or not. The labelling question is not whether GM foods are good or bad, but whether they are the same or different from non-modified goods. If they are different, they require labels. If they are the same, they do not deserve patent protection.
Keywords: Genetically modified food, GMO, biotechnology, food label, patents, markets, contracts, consumer protection, public interest, cost-benefit
JEL Classification: K23, K32, K12, L15, L66, O34, Q16, Q18, D61
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation