This past August I appeared on the Thom Hartmann radio show to talk about federal food labeling. Hartmann, the popular progressive host, quickly focused laser-like attention on my opposition to mandatory GMO labeling. So I posed a hypothetical to him.
"We don't force small farmers who use cow manure to fertilize their food to label their products by saying, 'This product grown in animal feces'" I told Hartmann. "Even though we know that animal feces sometimes sicken people."
"If you eat it raw," chuckled Hartmann.
But foods "we do tend to eat raw," I replied—including spinach and cantaloupe—are precisely the ones that have sickened people in recent years, largely because of the use of animal waste in their production.
Hartmann then asked how he was made more free—attempting to turn my argument against me—by not knowing that his food was grown in animal feces.
"So you're suggesting there should be a label," I asked, "'This product grown in animal feces?'"
"If it's killing people, you're making a strong argument for requiring that [warning] on the label," Hartmann concludes.
Well, it's hardly news that that's the case.
But there you have it. Not only do we need mandatory GMO labeling, but also mandatory warning labels on organic and conventional foods for having been grown the way food's been grown for millennia—using animal feces as fertilizer.
While I'm still surprised this was news to Hartmann (who trumpeted his longstanding expertise on food issues during the interview) and think he's off base with his call for organic food warning labels, at least Hartmann's call for government to compel farmers and grocers of all types and sizes to provide limitless information is consistent.
After all, much of the labeling fight that's going on these days is not so much about a consumer's right to adequate information as it is about a select group forcing the government to unfairly stigmatize foods they don't like and that they're competing against.
Take Washington State's mandatory GMO labeling ballot initiative, I-522, which goes before voters in the state next week.
According to this summary by I-522 opponents, the measure "would require labeling of genetically engineered foods, as defined in the measure, on the packaging of raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seed and seed stock, or on retail shelf signage for unpackaged products." If passed, the law would take effect in 2015.
Opponents claim I-522 "is poorly written and, if passed, would increase prices at the grocery store and hurt state farmers."
Indeed, a recent report by Washington State's independent Academy of Sciences concluded that I-522 would likely raise grocery prices in the state.