Labeling Genetically Modified Food: The Philosophical and Legal Debate

By Paul Weirich | Go to book overview

8
Frankenfood Free
Consumer Sovereignty, Federal Regulation, and
Industry Control in Marketing and Choosing Food
in the United States

Thomas O. McGarity

One of the most contentious of the many public policy debates over foods resulting from modern biotechnology has been the debate over whether genetically modified (GM) foods should be labeled so that consumers can easily ascertain whether the food that they are consuming has been genetically modified or contains GM constituents. Governments in Europe have resolved the debate largely in favor of labeling, while the federal government in the United States has declined to require labeling (Grossman 2005: 45). Congress has considered bills requiring labeling on foods containing GM materials on many occasions but has thus far failed to enact any of them (Galant 2005: 153). Voters in Oregon considered, and rejected, an initiative requiring such labeling in 2002 (Mayer and Cole 2002). A court of appeals decision involving milk produced through the application of a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone even casts some doubt upon the constitutionality of state and perhaps even the federal labeling requirements (International Dairy Foods v. Amestoy 1996). Yet the debate rages on.

This chapter provides an overview of the policy debate over the legal and regulatory issues involved in labeling GM foods. It then describes how the courts and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. regulatory agency with the most direct role in determining what manufacturers can say to consumers about health-related aspects of food, have resolved (or failed to resolve) those legal issues with an eye toward how the current legal regime advances or detracts from several important policy considerations that have arisen during the debates.


THE POLICY DEBATE

One of the continuing conundrums of a market economy is the question of who provides how much and what kind of information to consumers. In a strictly laissez

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