Labeling Genetically Modified Food: The Philosophical and Legal Debate

By Paul Weirich | Go to book overview

6
Mandatory Genetic Engineering
Labels and Consumer Autonomy

Peter Markie

Proponents of mandatory labels for GE (genetically engineered) products (Jackson 2000; Streiffer and Rubel 2004; Rubel and Streiffer 2005) often present what I call the autonomy argument: The labeling of GE products as such should be mandatory, since consumers need this information to make purchase decisions that are informed by their values. The argument is attractive, for it promises to settle the issue of mandatory labels for GE products without requiring us to first resolve difficult issues of their safety.1 The argument is also an obvious non sequitur. We thus face two questions: (1) How can we best develop the argument? (2) Is the argument, suitably developed, successful? In this chapter I examine three attempts to develop the argument, one of my own design and two that have been offered by others. I show that each is unsuccessful. I conclude with some general comments about the poor prospects for a successful version of the argument.


CONSUMER AUTONOMY AND THE OBLIGATIONS OF
GOVERNMENTS AND MARKETERS

The first version of the autonomy argument appeals to consumer autonomy to support the marketers’ responsibility thesis:

Marketers’ responsibility thesis: The marketers of GE products have a moral obli g-
ation to label GE products as such for consumers.

It then appeals to the importance of this obligation and the slim chance of its being honored without legal regulation to derive the mandatory labeling thesis:

Mandatory labeling thesis: Governments of societies in which GE products
are marketed are morally obligated to legally require that those marketing these
products label GE products as such for consumers.

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