Libertarianism and GMO

The Case for Mandatory GMO Labeling and Libertarian's View

This week's online discussion concerns GMO food labeling and how a libertarian might view an argument that governments should require GMO labeling on food products.

As you remember, we were assigned a reading on libertarianism in Chapter 3 from the book, "Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?" by Michael Sandel. In the book, Sandel stated that "libertarians favor unfettered markets and oppose government regulation." They believe in fundamental right to liberty of all individuals provided those choices or actions do not infringe upon other people's rights.

Here is a quick refresher on libertarian views:

We were also assigned couple articles focusing on GMOs. Let's take a quick tour of this video on the question: what are GMOs?

In the article “GMO Primer: How Genetically Modified Foods are Used, Regulated, Labeled, and Avoided” by Chicago Tribune (Jan 3, 2014), the author indicated that multiple European countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Hungary ban the use of GMOs, while Japan, New Zealand and parts of Australia also ban plants and animals with GMOs.

So what does the U.S. regulation body has to say about GMOs? The U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed them safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows and regulates their use, noting on its website that, "people have been modifying plants for thousands of years through breeding and selection." The FDA said it regulates food made from genetically engineered plants "to help ensure that they are safe to eat." And because GMOs are not considered additives by the FDA, all new modified crops can be created without seeking approval from the regulation body.

Initiative 522, a proposal to require labeling of some genetically modified foods, was voted down in Washington in 2013. If the ballot were to pass into law, the measure would have mandated labels on the front of food packaging. This would require all genetically engineered produce and meat from genetically engineered animals and fish to be labeled. Some people looked at the GMO labeling ballot initiative as a government mandate against the People and the free market idea. Did that remind you of libertarian's views? On the other hand, the supporters of the initiative saw it as a People-powered mandate against the corporations.

We have gathered a few video's which discuss how a Libertarian would argue against mandatory GMO labeling. Please analyze the following videos in the context of libertarianism.

To summarize, here are the arguments a libertarian would use to oppose government enforcing mandatory labeling of GMO products:

  • Overarching reasons: Liberty over State, remove government involvement in labeling foods and Free Market is the best regulator of the market
  • The federal government lacks constitutional authority to mandate labeling of products containing genetically-modified food. - Ron Paul
  • The government and Monsanto are already in cahoots with each other, why give more power to the Federal regulatory agencies.
  • Its not fraud, unless the food was label non-GMO and it was a GMO.
  • If GMO labeling was required, Federal regulatory agencies could redefine the meaning of 'modified' to allow genetically-engineered food on the market without fully-informing consumers of the presence of genetically- engineered ingredients. Instead of federal regulation, consumers should demand that manufactures provide full information and refuse to buy those products that are not fully labeled. Once producers see there is a demand for non-genetically-engineered products they will act to fulfill that demand. - Ron Paul

The libertarian argument for GMO labeling

Libertarians wish to prohibit fraud. GMOs have been perfected to the extent that they look, taste, and smell the same as real food. Without labeling, you could not tell the difference, and would expose yourself (and anyone who consumed the "food") to possible harm. You are being induced to purchase the GMO food under false pretences, and that is something that even libertarians say that the law may prohibit.  (Source:

What do you think? How effective were these arguments? What would make them stronger? How would you oppose these arguments? Post in the comments section.

Additionally, as part of this week's assignment, we were supposed to review the defensive traps number 21-37 from the Ethical Executive books and see how these traps relate to our discussion of libertarianism and GMO labeling.

The following 17 traps are frequently used to reduce negative feeling such as guilt and shame resulting from an immoral transgression:

  • Trap 21 - Anger. 
  • Trap 22 - Going numb
  • Trap 23 - Alcohol
  • Trap 24 - Desensitization
  • Trap 25 - Reduction Words
  • Trap 26 - Renaming
  • Trap 27 - Adventageous Comparison
  • Trap 28 - Zooming out
  • Trap 29 - Everybody does it
  • Trap 30 - We won't get caught
  • Trap 31 - We didn't hurt them that bad
  • Trap 32 - Self-serving bias
  • Trap 33 - Addiction
  • Trap 34 - Coworker reaction
  • Trap 35 - Established impressions
  • Trap 36 - Contempt for the victim
  • Trap 37 - Doing is believing

According to libertarian views, one seeks autonomy, freedom of choice and the primacy of individual judgement. The defensive traps above help justify unethical behaviors based on self implications and demonstrate how a single individual can find themselves repeating such behaviors by getting caught up in those traps. Despite the unethical aspect there is to the defensive traps, libertarians would probably defend and support each one of them in an effort to reinforce the principles of liberty and individual judgement. Because  most traps reinforce these principles, they support libertarian views.

Now, each of these traps might be used by a person when they make a libertarian argument against mandatory GMO labeling. Which do you spot in the below YouTube video?

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