The March for Science bills itself as a celebration of science. It warns of “an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus.” “Policies that ignore scientific evidence,” the group says, “endanger both human life and the future of our world.”
The same can be said of the federal government’s plans to mandate GMO labeling.
Last June, President Obama signed a GMO labeling law. The Department of Agriculture has a year left to iron out details before the law goes into effect in 2018.
On Monday, my colleague Ethan Blevins and I submitted a comment letter explaining the First Amendment problems with the GMO labeling law. Whenever the government compels speech, it must have a good reason for doing so. Example: a law may require labels that divulge the presence of peanuts, shellfish, and other allergens. The First Amendment takes no issue with that law, because those ingredients can make unwitting consumers sick or worse.
But compare that with the GMO labeling law. There’s broad scientific consensus that GMOs pose no unique risk to human health. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science put it: The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has reached that same conclusion.
If anything, genetic engineering will make the world healthier. As one example, over a hundred Nobel laureates recently noted the benefits of Golden Rice, which is genetically infused with beta-carotene. They predict that Golden Rice will reduce disease from Vitamin A deficiency, which disproportionately plagues impoverished parts of the world.
Like other technological advances, genetic engineering can do a lot of good. A GMO labeling mandate would violate the First Amendment, because it wouldn’t do anything to protect public health and safety.
But what about consumers who demand to know whether there are GMOs in their food? Many companies are already voluntarily catering to those consumers. Chipotle boasts: “when it comes to our food, genetically modified ingredients don’t make the cut.” Cheerios boxes say that the cereal is “not made with genetically modified ingredients.” And although Campbell “continues to recognize that GMOs are safe,” it discloses GMO ingredients to please its consumers.
Science is great. Scientists have figured out a way to deliver nutrients to parts of the world that can’t afford to live without them. The First Amendment is great. It means that a law can’t force Americans to repeat the government’s preferred message. And it means that the government must support any labeling law with facts showing why it is needed. The market is great. Good businesses cater to consumer preferences. That means the job of telling businesses what information we want doesn’t belong to the government. It belongs to us.