In observing the mandatory GMO labeling debate that’s been raging in the US and elsewhere in recent months, I’ve been amazed to see so many liberty-minded people—who typically advocate for human rights, liberty, property rights, and free markets in other areas—suddenly turn statist, wishing to drag the government—whether on the national or state level—into the marketplace, to force others to comply with their demands.
You can be sure that once the guns of the state enter the equation, somebody’s rights are being violated, or their liberty restricted. And in this case—as is becoming more and more frequent—once again it’s the rights of business owners.
What’s worse, in some places, thousands of acres of GMO crops are actually being burned—and to me, watching people—especially liberty advocates—revel in such appalling destruction of private property, such violations of the rights of the property owners, is in the least perplexing, if not outright disturbing.
Although I’ve written of this before, explaining why I’m against mandatory GMO labeling laws, I’ve since taken a closer look at the pro-GMO labeling mandate argument itself, in order to ascertain where, exactly, the fallacy lies; why, in this particular issue, do so many who claim to be advocates for human rights and liberty suddenly support state intervention in the marketplace?
But before I proceed, allow me state my position on GMOs:
I myself avoid foods containing GMOs, because I don’t believe they’ve been adequately tested—especially in the determination of possible long-term effects—and therefore the science isn’t yet settled. So in my opinion, the jury is still out on this one, and until we know more, and have had sufficient time to determine the long-term safety, or danger, of GMOs, I’ve elected to try to stick with non-GMO, natural foods as much as possible.
So now, there seems to be a paradox here: I actively avoid the consumption of foods containing GMOs—but I’m against mandatory GMO labeling laws? How can this be?
Upon closer inspection, however, this seeming paradox isn’t, in fact, a paradox at all; that’s because—just as there is a fundamental flaw in the libertarian ideal of limited government—there is also a fundamental flaw in the mandatory GMO labeling argument.
So let us take a moment to more closely examine the common catch-phrase that we all hear spouted by advocates of mandatory GMO labeling laws:
“We have a right to know what’s in our food!”
Now, besides the fallacious notion that government regulation of an industry does anything toward ensuring the safety or quality of that industry’s products or services, which it clearly does not (for ample proof of this, we need look no further than the dismal failure of the FDA and USDA, whose combined budgets surpass $136 billion annually; these agencies are charged with, among other things, keeping our nation’s food supply safe and healthy. But instead, our food supply is making us fat, making us sick, and even killing us. So instead of being safe and healthy, under the FDA’s and USDA’s watch our food supply has become full of toxic chemicals, pesticides, unsubstantiated GMOs, hormones, antibiotics—and has actually become devoid of many of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we all actually need in order to stay healthy).
But leaving that reality aside, let’s take a look at the two other flaws in the seemingly reasonable statement, “We have a right to know what’s in our food!”
The initial flaw is relatively easy to identify: it is the fact that mandatory GMO labeling laws have nothing to do with your right to know what’s in your food.
Of course you have the right to know what’s in your food, just as you have the right to consume whatever you choose to (which is why I support the legalization of all drugs, both non-state-approved and prescription drugs). But contrary to popular belief, that’s not the question here; rather, the real question is this: “Do you, or do you not, have the right to force others to comply with your demands, and force even others to pay for it?”
Well obviously, no, you don’t have that right; nobody does. And as with any issue, when you drag the force of the state into the equation, essentially you are pointing hired guns at others and forcing them to comply with your demands. In addition, the cost of compliance with your demands will be passed on to others—whether they agree with you or not—in the form of more or higher taxes to fund the new regulatory function, and higher consumer prices to cover the company’s cost of compliance, or costs incurred as a result of their non-compliance.
The fact is, you, as a consumer in a free market, have the right to either purchase, or not purchase, a product based on whether the company’s product, actions, or policies meet your standards or criteria—such as how, or to what extent, they label their food products—and that’s it. And if a company fails—or even refuses—to cater to the demands of the market…well, then, they can just sit back and watch their sales drop, and even risk going out of business.
Now, all that being said, we’ve still not identified the fundamental flaw in the mandatory GMO labeling argument, as expressed in the mantra “We have a right to know what’s in our food!”
And the fundamental flaw is this: It’s not your food!
And that, my friends, is the tiny little factual detail that nobody seems to be considering in this entire debate. It’s simply and factually not “your food” until you purchase it; once you do so, then—and only then—does it become your food, and at that point you have the right to do whatever you wish with it. But up until the point of purchase, it’s their food, so they have the right to do what they wish with it.
If you don’t don’t like or want what’s in their food—or perhaps you don’t even know what’s in their food—then exercise your true, legitimate right: don’t buy it.