In response to my post, Libertarianism and GMOs, some commenters have suggested that it possibly could be fraud for a seller of GMO food not to identify the food as GMO.
This is an interesting question that requires further analysis. Let us begin.
Words often identify categories. They can also identify subcategories. For example, there is the word chair.
The first chair was probably a wooden chair. But the essence of a chair is not that it is wooden made. Nowadays, we have plastic chairs, leather chairs, metal chairs etc.
In the same way, there are certain names for foods that can put them into a master category and then other words or compound words that can be considered terms that identify sub-categories. Orange would be a master category, "Florida grown orange" would be a subcategory. There is the "navel orange," the" organic grown orange," the "GMO orange," etc., all subcategories
It is difficult to see why it would be fraud to simply sell an orange with its master category name. There may be people like me who don't care if it is GMO made or not. For those that it is a concern, then they need to look more carefully at subcategories.
I am a gin drinker, more specifically I drink Bombay Sapphire gin. I consider the taste of Bombay Sapphire gin superior. But it was certainly not the first gin ever made and according to the producers web site, it is made differently than other gins:
We are passionate about producing the finest gin possible; which is why the creation of Bombay Sapphire is truly unique. Whilst ordinary gins boil their botanicals directly in the spirit to achieve their flavour, the taste of Bombay Sapphire is created through the Vapour Infusion process.Bombay Sapphire is a subcategory of gin, made differently! Should a bartender go to jail for serving Bombay Sapphire when a patron simply asks for gin? Of course, not. If a customer only asks for gin, it means he doesn't have a preference, (Sort of like me when it comes to GMO or non-GMO oranges.) On the other hand, I always ask for Bombay Sapphire gin. There is a big difference between that gin and others---to me. Should I be upset if at happy hour a bar serves a house gin without identifying it. Of course not!
If I am looking for a specific subcategory, well then, I should just look for that subcategory, where that subcategory is identified.
I have a friend who is allergic to peanuts. At restaurants, he always asks if certain foods are prepared with peanuts. If the waiter can't tell him, he just passes on those dishes. Should a restaurant be required to label such lifesaving information? Of course not! My friend just searches for the subcategories that he knows are safe for him.
If there is a big enough concern about an item in a product, businessmen will go out of their way to prepare a product the way the group of concerned consumers wish, Many Chinese restaurants now make clear they prepare their food without MSG. That's a subcategory of Chinese food. They would be idiots not to promote the fact. But at the same time, for someone like me who has no concerns about MSG, a Chinese restaurant that doesn't disclose beyond their major category is no big deal to me.
If someone is producing non-GMO oranges and there is a big demand for non-GMO oranges, it would make sense for that producer to label them as such. That's why the supermarket retailer, Whole Foods, labels its GMO and non-GMO foods and why Chipolte loudly announces that it serves non-GMO dishes exclusively. There is a market for identifying these subcategories and it has emerged.
Let us ponder the Latin term, caveat emptor.
The first two paragraphs in Wikipedia on the term are are instructive:
Caveat emptor / / is Latin for "Let the buyer beware" (from caveat, "may he beware", the subjunctive of cavere, "to beware" + emptor, "buyer"). Generally, caveat emptor is the contract law principle that controls the sale of real property after the date of closing, but may also apply to sales of other goods. The phrase caveat emptor arises from the fact that buyers typically have less information about the good or service they are purchasing, while the seller has more information. The quality of this situation is known as 'information asymmetry'. Defects in the good or service may be hidden from the buyer, and only known to the seller.
A common way that information asymmetry between seller and buyer has been addressed is through a legally-binding warranty, such as a guarantee of satisfaction. But without such a safeguard in place the ancient rule applies, and the buyer should beware.I can't think of a product where there might be multiple different facts that a specific buyer might want to know that other buyers don't care about at all. Should every seller be required to label every product he is selling with every possible piece of information about the product? Of course not.
It is the responsibility of the buyer to understand what he is looking for in a product and find the sellers that are willing to disclose that information. To demand that all products be labeled with all sorts of things is absurd. To charge a seller who identifies a product only by its main category with fraud is absurd.
Anyone demanding that subcategory labels be put on products is practicing a type of central planning. They think the information is important, and thus demand that the information be made available to everyone. The true free market perspective is to allow free exchange. Someone who wants non-GMO food should simply deal with sellers who are willing to disclose such, and they should leave the rest of us the hell alone.
Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher at EconomicPolicyJournal.com and at Target Liberty. He is also author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics