CounterPoint: The Case Against Mandatory Labeling of GE Food

Vol. 28 No. 2

Mr. Marchant is Regents’ Professor and Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law & Ethics at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.

Labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods seems, on first impression, to be a no-brainer. But as one digs more deeply into the arguments and evidence, many of the claims that initially appear to support GE labeling—such as consumer choice and public opinion—actually cut the other way. Moreover, although most of the public sentiment in favor of labeling is well intentioned, the campaign to label GE foods is actually a cynical, antiscientific, and an antidemocratic attempt to manipulate our food system to economically benefit the very organic food interests that are funding this campaign.

In this article, I address the major arguments put forward in favor of mandatory GE labeling and show how they not only do not affirmatively support GE labeling but also actually weigh against mandatory labeling. The first argument advanced in favor of GE labeling is that public opinion polls overwhelmingly support labeling, but if the data are examined more carefully they show that the public is unwilling to pay the costs that would be imposed by mandatory labeling. The second argument is that it will help inform the consumer, but GE labeling as it is currently being proposed will only confuse and mislead consumers. Finally, GE labeling is advocated to give consumers a choice in selecting foods, but the consequence of mandatory GE labeling will be to force GE foods off of the grocery shelves and deny consumers a choice, the not-so-secret agenda of the organic food interests funding the GE labeling campaigns.

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