Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Trying again: Let's start with frankenfish and consumers' right to know

© 2012 Joshua Stark

According to some producers, wild salmon just don't grow fast enough.  Oh sure, a Chinook salmon can reach 40+ pounds in two years, feeding for free and adding to the health of our lands and waters as it does, but this kind of willy-nilly public resource just doesn't cut it for those who wish to have complete control over their market.  So in the name of profit, these folks have genetically engineered a species of salmon that grows over twice as fast as wild fish.  Meant to be farmed in closed systems, these GE salmon will be fed by fishing for baitfish, presumably, and will not be allowed to enter our oceans, for fear that they will out-compete and destroy wild salmon.  First, however, the producers of this fish must get past the FDA, which doesn't look like too big a hurdle.

While the FDA wrestles with the question of legalizing GE salmon for consumers, California is considering whether or not to require labels identifying such meat as GE in the marketplace.  And while I might address the basic question of even allowing GE salmon at some future point, right now I want to address consumer knowledge in the marketplace.

This, of course, is a no-brainer outside of the halls of governance:  Libertarians to Socialists agree that consumers have the right to know where and how their food comes to be.  Even the opponents of the labeling bill (AB 88) couch their opposition in a manner that acknowledges some leeway in labeling requirements, arguing not that they shouldn't be labeled, per se, but that such requirements are the responsibility of the federal government, not the State.

In reality, the bill's opponents are concerned that if consumers know what they are buying, they will probably choose not to buy it (about 50% say they wouldn't).  Really, consumer choice is the issue here, and California has every right to require labeling.