The Libertarian Case Against GMOs

This Tuesday, November 5th, the state of Washington might become the first to mandate the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Known officially as Initiative 522 or I-522, the bill would enable residents of The Evergreen State to find out whether or not the food they buy in the grocery store contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients by reading the label.

A similar bill by the name of Proposition 37 was defeated in California last November, though 64 countries on all different continents already require labeling and some have imposed outright bans. A New York Times poll conducted this year revealed 93 percent of Americans want GMO labeling.

Yet many a libertarian feels uneasy advocating for a government-imposed mandate, and rightly so. This might lead some to think that libertarians would advocate for the biotech industry’s “right” to poison the food supply with genetically altered foods that have never been proven safe for human consumption and despite the litany of documented health risks surrounding these foods.

But in order to come to such a conclusion one would have to ignore one of the cornerstones of libertarianism. After all, at the core of libertarian philosophy lies the non-aggression principle, which rejects any initiation of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property, as inherently illegitimate. And in the case of GMOs, barely scratching the surface is enough to reveal mountains of fraud and deceit, as detailed elsewhere on this website.genetic_modification

The White House and Monsanto have for decades had a very cozy relationship, leading the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider GM foods just as safe as natural, non-GM foods[1]. Despite the injection of foreign genes into such crops as corn, cotton, soy and canola the FDA allowed them to be introduced into the U.S. food supply, claiming there was no information showing that GM foods were “substantially different from conventionally grown foods”. In doing so the agency also ignored serious safety concerns among its own scientists, and hid this fact from the American people. In other words, the United States federal government and the biotech industry have for decades been involved in a massive conspiracy against the people.

In fact, all governments that allow the cultivation of GM crops are conspiring with the biotech industry to deliberately put the health of billions of people at risk. Clearly this constitutes fraud upon persons, which libertarians – i.e. proponents of the non-aggression principle – regard as inherently illegitimate: the libertarian case against GMOs in a nutshell.

The practical implications of the aforementioned are obvious. What happened to Bernie Madoff when his cleverly constructed Ponzi scheme came tumbling down? The former stockbroker’s crimes were condemned as “extraordinarily evil” by a Federal District Judge who handed him a prison sentence of 150 years for having committed the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.

Still, the number of victims Madoff made pales in comparison to the billions of lives that have been and continue to be jeopardized by GMOs. Just consider the estimated 250,000+ Indian farmers that committed suicide after being robbed of their livelihoods by Monsanto.

Without the cloak of government approval the genetic modification of our food supply likely would never have gathered any steam to begin with. In addition, an objective review of the scientific data available today would very quickly come to the conclusion that the risks far outweigh the potential (though highly debatable) benefits. Unfortunately this government complicity also begs the question whether justice will indeed prevail. After all, what incentive do people – even good people – in a centralized bureaucracy have to indict their own colleagues, especially their bosses?

Even though one would have to be delusional to look to government for the solution to a government-created problem, initiatives such as I-522 in Washington are a testament to the growing awareness about and resistance against GMOs. Libertarians should stand together with those opposing genetically modified foods – without calling for government intervention, of course – and take a principled stance against the fraud that has been perpetrated by government and the biotech industry.

[1] Smith, J.M. (2003). Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating. Fairfield, IA: Yes! Books. p. 130




8 thoughts on “The Libertarian Case Against GMOs

  1. Pingback: Campbell’s Soup and the Ethics of Food Labeling | PhiloSkeptical

  2. Your article disappoints because it conveys so much typical environmental hysteria, “green” fear-mongering against human advancement in technology. Genetic modification of crops has been around for centuries, and is very beneficial – i.e., essential to feeding an ever-increasing world population. Thomas Jefferson was experimenting with hybrid plants more than 200 years ago, developing new fruit trees, etc.
    “Genetic modification is the cornerstone of agriculture — through generations of breeding, humans took one species, the wild cabbage Brassica oleracea, and turned it into a host of different foods, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. Now, biotechnology has accelerated the process and allowed breeders more precision in designing their crops. There is much disagreement about the cost of these advances.”
    You refer to “the litany of documented health risks”, but that quote in your article links to a website that is virulently anti-science.
    There are undoubtedly health risks in any food we grow, any food we eat, and we would be foolish to ever trust governments to protect us from those risks, or to ever trust government-funded scientists to produce honest research.
    You speak of “billions of lives jeopardized by GMOs” and of 250,000 Indian farmers who committed suicide after being robbed by Monsanto because of Monsanto’s patented crop policies, where farmers must buy new seeds from Monsanto each year. That is ridiculous and not-believable. People who commit suicide don’t do so “because” of someone else’s business activities.
    Indian farmer suicides may have totalled 300,000 in the past 20 years, but are you really blaming that on Monsanto? US farmers have a higher rate of suicide, French farmers have high rates, so do U.K. and Australian farmers. Lots of reasons why, but please – Monsanto patented seeds?
    Debt, crop failures, heavy monsoon rains, hail storms, drought, lots of things cause distress to farmers. Many farmers can’t handle their failure.
    But blaming Monsanto? Do you really think Monsanto “robbed” Indian farmers? Or do you think Monsanto poisoned them?
    Some studies show the biggest problem for many farmers is that they are too dependent on debt, they can’t handle the debt when they have a bad crop yield, then they can’t handle the stress of failure, losing their land, etc.
    You write a lot of good stuff in your other articles. Please lay off of the irrational, emotional, anti-science fear mongering.
    The free flow of information can expose any “fraud” perpetrated by Monsanto, or by government scientists. The market can expose the fraud, and discredit and punish the perpetrators. No need for government-mandated disclosures, which couldn’t be trusted anyway.

    • Thanks again for the comment Paul. To your first point, hybrid seeds should not be confused with genetically modified seeds. These plants are usually naturally compatible varieties within the same species which are crossed (in the field) to improve crop yield. Genetic modification, on the other hand, is done in a lab using highly complex technologies that the scientists performing it themselves hardly understood, as explained for instance in Jeffrey Smith’s books Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette. As these books also explain, this is one primary reason why many scientists who were initially very excited about – if not outright proponents of – GM technology later changed their minds when they learned about the inherent risks.

      As a matter of fact, I am not aware of a single study which has proven GMOs to be safe for human consumption. Independent studies such as the Seralini study that have been done with animals, however, show shocking negative health consequences. Yet due to its cozy relationship with politicians the world over, the biotech industry has been able to unleash their products into much of the global food chain. That is why I say billions of lives are being jeopardized.

      I will concede your point about farmer suicides in different countries and thank you for pointing that out, but I wonder how deep you dug into the case of the Indian farmers. To me it seems like a stretch to brush the statistics cited in the article off as a simple coincidence, especially as the writer speaks from his personal experience being around and speaking with farmers and others in India. It also cites a 2009 publication from NYU School of Law and contains sources and references to all of the numbers mentioned, so I’m really not sure how that is “anti-science”. When farmers are lured into buying GM seeds that cannot be stored for longer than a year with the promise of higher crop yields – on which their families depend – only to find crop failure and consequent personal bankruptcy to be the result of said seeds, I think it is fair to say the seller had a big hand in creating their misery.

      I agree with you that the market can expose fraud, just not if the free flow of information is impeded by government in collusion with certain corporations.

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