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What’s Happening: GMO Labeling

About calories

An important bill for the GMO labeling debate just failed to pass Congress. (New York Times) The bill would have prevented individual states from making their own rules about GMO labeling. Since it failed, states will still be allowed to make mandatory GMO labeling laws on a state-by-state basis.

Opponents of the bill rely heavily on the “right to know” argument, the principle that putting a label on something doesn’t restrict anyone’s right to buy it, and people who want to eat GMO foods can just keep eating them. But in practice, most labeling advocates care about their right to know because they want the right to avoid GMO foods: most people who are OK with eating GMO foods don’t particularly care if they’re labeled or not.

The anti-labeling faction isn’t stupid: they pick right up on the fact that “right to know” is code for “right to avoid.” They also argue that right-to-know principles might have unintended effects in practice. In reality, the vast, vast majority of consumers haven’t done any research on the GMO foods or anything else, and make decisions based on all kinds of illogical assumptions (like assuming that “organic” foods have fewer calories, which is actually something people really think). Labeling opponents claim that in practice, shoppers will basically be misled into avoiding GMO foods because they just assume that if there’s a warning label, it must be bad.

Since nobody can force anyone else to make rational decisions, it’s not clear what to do about that impasse. In any case, the political fight was truly bizarre, with Republicans fighting against states’ rights while Democrats defended them. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

…all of which really raises another question: if we’re apparently going to have a presidential primary debate every other day, can we have one focused on food policy at some point? Surely they must have run out of things to say about the size of each other’s hands by now.

Anyway, here’s some slightly less polarizing news to chew on:

If you support GMO labeling on right-to-know grounds, how do you answer concerns about consumer education? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!