Fred Thompson with another contribution:
I get a lot of posts on Facebook about GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Most call for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foodstuffs. I have been reticent to speak out against it in this forum because, strictly speaking, my objections aren’t based on economic analysis. Indeed, the strictly economic arguments made against mandatory labeling by its opponents look to me to be weak, at best, and, at worst, paternalistic nonsense.
Rather, this looks to me like a free speech issue, which, perhaps, first of all comprehends the right to be silent. Now, I am a reasonable guy. I am willing to restrict first amendment rights to protect the public health and safety. But that willingness is grudging. You must show (provide plausible scientific evidence) that the restriction really would promote public health and safety, which opponents of GMOs cannot do. This is the Constitutional law doctrine of strict scrutiny, which the standard test the courts invoke when the rights enumerated in the first eight amendments to the Constitution are infringed.
OK, you say, but you have a right to be informed about what you buy. The Uniform Commercial Code grants you that right, which ought to override mere commercial speech protections. Not a bad argument, say I. But, then, the question arises, is there a less intrusive (in the sense of encroaching on speech rights) way to satisfy your need to know? And, in this case there is. Sellers of GMO-free foodstuffs can satisfy your need for information by voluntarily labeling their products GMO-free.
Of course, I have some sympathy for the organic farmer who notes that they were there first – that their ilk have been producing GMO-free foods for thousands of years. It’s not their fault that the need for labeling has arisen. Presumably, however, it’s their customers who want this information, not the GMO indifferent, let alone the GMO lovers. Besides, as those who advocate mandatory labeling in this instance, almost certainly, correctly argue, the costs of labeling are trivial. I have heard some advocates of mandatory labeling claim that it is very hard (costly?) to prove a negative, but those who would want an exemption from the labeling requirement under mandatory labeling would probably still bear the cost burden (not the GMO users/producers). The only difference is that, under mandatory labeling, if the labeling regulations were effectively enforced, it’s likely that the GMO-free farmers (and their customers) would also bear the cost of the governmental regulatory apparatus.