On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban states from requiring special labels for all “genetically modified” foods. Known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, it advanced by a vote of 275 to 150.
A deeply concerned contingent of detractors, meanwhile, calls it the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act. Which sounds much worse. And it accurately recapitulates the case for mandatory labeling, which consistently returns to the argument that people have a “right to know what's in their food.”
“What’s the problem with letting consumers know what they are buying?” argued Peter Welch, a Democratic representative from Vermont, one of three states that has already passed mandatory “GMO labeling” laws.
Who doesn’t want to know what’s in their food? As pro-rights arguments go, that sounds pretty airtight.
Except that the act doesn’t deny people that right. Nothing will stop food manufacturers who avoid "genetically modified" ingredients from labeling and marketing their products accordingly. People who object to genetic modification—either because of concerns about the prudence of introducing certain crops into certain ecosystems, or because of patent laws and corporate business practices, or because these people are among the majority of Americans who now believe any and all “genetically modified” foods to be inherently unhealthful to consume (despite assurances to the contrary from The World Health Organization, Food and Drug Administration, American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, among others)—can continue to pay premiums for products that are marketed as “GMO free,” which implies health and safety, even while the implication is without merit. Some go so far as to call it fraud.