Campbell Soup Company (NYSE: CPB) today [January 7, 2016] announced its support for the enactment of federal legislation to establish a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)….Campbell is prepared to label all of its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients that were derived from GMOs.
There’s an interesting post over at Philoskeptic, “Campbell’s Soup and the Ethics of Food Labeling.”
I recommend the whole post to you. I found we had areas of agreement and (apparent) disagreement in regards to the meaning of Campbell’s labeling, specifically about choice.
I agreed with:
“Labeling itself is fine, such as including the names of allergens (milk, soy, wheat, etc.), or ingredients which could potentially harm a sub set of the population (such as phenylalanine), but labeling genetically engineered food is simply a bad idea.”
Indeed, one reason (of the many reasons) is that GMO is a placeholder, not an actual thing. Nathaniel Johnson has pointed out on Grist, “It’s practically impossible to define ‘GMOs.‘” that “GMOs, like other cultural constructs — think of gender, or race — do have a basis in reality, of course: We can roughly define ‘male’ or ‘Asian,’ but when we try to regulate these divisions, all kinds of problems crop up. And definitions of ‘GMOs’ are much messier — ‘nerd’ might be a roughly equivalent category. You know what a nerd is, but things would break down fast if you were required to label and regulate all the nerds. The definition of a nerd depends on the context; it depends on who’s asking. Same with GMOs.”
But I take issue with: “Choice is overrated…” He links to a Ted Talk by Barry Schwarz who says, according to the Ted Talk site, “…choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.”
As Matt Ridley points out in his book, The Rational Optimist, “[According to political scientist Ronald Inglehart]: the big gains in happiness comes from living in a society that frees you to make choices about your lifestyle –– about where to live, who to marry, how to express your sexuality and so on. It is the increase in free choice since 1981 that has been responsible for the increase in happiness recorded since then in forty-five out of fifty-two countries. Ruut Veenhoven finds that ‘the more individualized the nation, the more citizens enjoy their life.'” [Emphasis mine]
I disagree that there are some things that we the people should not be free to choose. Philoskeptic says, the issues of “health and environmental safety, are probably far too serious to be left to the whims of consumer choice….The decision should not be made by consumers, but by an appropriate regulatory body which has the requisite knowledge base to make appropriate decisions regarding food. ”
This argument is akin to an “appeal to authority,” that is, “using the opinion or position of an authority figure, or institution of authority, in place of an actual argument.” In this case technocrats, a la Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), would make decisions for us. So why worry our pretty little heads about such things?
The EPA’s track record is spotty at best. It has always amazed me that the “Best Available Science” applied by the EPA (or other government agency) seems to be highly affected by the party affiliation of our chief executive, the President of the United States.
One thing social media has shown is that the majority of people are quite astute at calling bullshit on organizations and governments and holding them accountable. Companies especially know that the “long shadow of the future hangs over any transaction”(1) and we customers (having choices) will take our business elsewhere if we are not happy with the company’s policies or product.
Again let me stress that Philoskeptic and I do not think Campbell’s call for a federal label is a good one. GMO labeling is as unnecessary as it is costly. Go here to read the complete post.
- Matt Ridley