Monday, January 4, 2016

Libertarianism and GMOs

A post I put up at EPJ, Go GMOs! Farmaceuticals Coming!, has promoted a number of comments and emails. These show that there is some confusion about the nature of libertarianism and how it applies to GMOs and also it appears to me that there is a general over caution about GMOs beyond the government question.

Let us consider some of the comments and emails. My additional comments are in blue.

Sooo... according to the War Street Journal, the FDA approved a Franken-chicken that won't be "available" to be eaten for meat (boy, that doesn't raise ANY red flags at all, no siree) but will lay eggs that, when eaten, replace "faulty" human enzymes in order to cure disease. Thus, at least some GMOs are "good" and "safe." Glad to know all that unpleasant "fear mongering" stuff about GMOs has been cleared up! /s 
RW comment:
I consider FDA "approval" in this situation as the FDA just getting out of the way so that a company can offer a product on the market. There is no obligation that anyone be forced to eat these eggs. But if I had an infant who suffered from  lysosomal acid lipase deficiency, I sure as hell would feed the infant the eggs.
Very low levels of the LAL enzyme lead to early onset LAL Deficiency, sometimes called Wolman disease...Early onset LAL Deficiency typically affects infants in the first year of life....Very few infants with Wolman disease survive beyond the first year of life.
This blind hatred of scientific developments I find particularly disconcerting. Some developments may be good, some may be bad, but general hate of scientific change, I do not agree with. These genetically modified eggs, in particular, appear to be a life saving advancement,
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Phew! And here I was worried about the unintended consequences of splicing genes that interact with each other in ways we still don't understand. But it's okay because RW and the FDA says it is.
RW comment:
No it is not okay because I say so or because the FDA says so, if you have objections to GMO food, then eat at Chipolte.
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While I'm not rabidly against GMOs, the comparison between GMOs and "wild genetically modified amoeba" is, in itself, absurd.

The "wild genetically modified amoeba" has experienced millions of years and hundreds of sextillion deaths to achieve that genetic modification. Genes created through "central planning" have no such filter.

RW comment:
So are you saying that poison mushrooms and pufferfish are safe to eat because they have been around for millions of years? What does the length  of time a type of organic item being on the planet have to do with it being safe to eat? I'll take lab tests over blindly eating poisonous mushrooms because they have been around for millions of years.

Any genetic modification that can create beneficial "farmaceuticals" can also create damaging effects since almost all drugs have side-effects for at least some percentage of the individuals that take the drugs.
RW comment:
So are you saying an infant who suffers from  lysosomal acid lipase deficiency should be prevented from taking GMO modified eggs even if the infant might die otherwise, because there might be some unknown side effect? Isn't the libertarian position that FDA meddling generally prevents life saving drugs from coming to market because of their over caution and that libertarians argue that it should be up to the individuals to decide wheter to take a drug? Why not the same for GMOs?

I'm not against GMOs, but I'm also not naive to possible dangers. Regardless of the potential danger, I don't want government to ban or promote GMOs (and you can be assured that government are trying to develop GMO weapons)
RW comment:
Government shouldn't develop anything.
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Be aware that the biggest battle being fought is over LABELING, not whether GMOs are, or should be, approved for use.

Companies that produce GMOs do not want to have to label that their products contain GMOs due to the fear that the public won't buy them. They have even gone so far as to push legislation that would forbid non-GMO products from being able to be labeled as 'NON-GMO'.

"Big GMOs" argument is basically that their business should not be held hostage to the public's 'stupidity' in not realizing just how awesomely awesome their awesome products are.

GMO products should have to be labeled as such, so that I may be able to make my own decision as to what I want to feed my family. How I make that decision is up to me. It may be smart, it may be not so smart, but it is MY decision to make.

I really don't see why they are so worried. Boobus Americanus would willingly eat a piece of sh1t, as long as it had enough salt and sugar in it, and was cheap enough. I mean...look at what they eat now...
RW comment:
Under libertarian principle, that is the non-aggression principle, there would be no obligation to label anything. If I want to sell a black box without telling anyone what is in it, I should be free to do so. On the other hand, no one should be under the obligation to buy the box from me.
Further, those that only want to buy boxes knowing what is in them should only buy at stores that disclose what is in the boxes that they are selling.
For those who are concerned about GMOs and don't want to eat GMO food, they should simply eat  at places that offer that option, as referenced above Chipolte, and Whole Foods has a full GMO transparency policy.
Of course, there should be no government regulations preventing labeling.

For those who don't think that HOW food is produced matters, consider this...

Farmed salmon and wild salmon are the same genetically, but farmed salmon is fed a diet of grain (primarily GMO grain, btw). Interestingly, this affects the color of the salmon, turning it grey. Since people won't generally eat a grey salmon (thinking there might be something wrong with it...hmmm), they add pink color to it. Don't believe me, just look at a package of farmed salmon. It will have 'color added' on it.

But they are just the same, right???? I'm sure that there is lobbying going on right now to remove the requirement of adding that 'color added' label. Just 'confuses' us stupid Americans, right.

I wonder if Bob thinks that accurate labeling should be required? Or at least not making is a crime to accurately label one's product as 'non-GMO'.
RW comment:
Again, I don't believe anyone has an obligation to label anything. If you are concerned about such things shop at Whole Foods. On the other hand, as mentioned above, there should be no government regulations preventing labeling.
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The idea that FDA "approval" means something is safe is absurd.
RW comment:
No, "approval" just means the government getting the hell out of the way, so individual consumers can make their own decisions.
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How can you support GMOs knowing the revolving door of the FDA bureaucrats and big pharma/monsanto inc.? There is absolutely no mechanism for protection of property rights involved. I can be harmed by their products and not only can I not avoid it, it may even be forced on me (nurses forced to take flu shot).
RW comment:
A company making any product where a consumer is free to buy or not buy a product has nothing to do with the government/big business revolving door. Why can't you just avoid GMO food? Just shop at stores where the shopkeepers cater to your concerns. This is done every day on a billion other products, with billions of other concerns.
Nurses being forced to take flu shots is not a GMO question. If they were forced to even drink spring fresh water, never mind a shot of water, it would still be a violation of NAP, if it was being forced on them. However, if a private hospital made it a condition of employment, it would be a legitimate requirement by the private hospital without violating NAP.,

I try my best to buy organic but not because I believe all GMOs are bad but because I believe these companies control the FDA and the FDA is the most corrupt part of our govt...the revolving door rewards for FDA workers is proof of that. The FDA is a rubber stamp that has come to define the term "conflict of interest" in the modern era. If you think an organization can be that corrupt and still have any credibility as to what is or is not safe...well that is sad. Sad coming from someone who should know better.
RW comment:
If a product is offered on the market and I want to I buy it, I don't care what the FDA says about it. I wish the FDA was abolished or at least that they approved everything immediately.

Why can't we have labels? Why?
RW comment:
Well, I am against government required labeling because it violates NAP. If you want to be a dictator, then you could require them in your kingdom. 
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You've got the cart before the horse my friend: I blame the FDA for GMO's not the other way around. Without the FDA rubber stamping the awful studies showing GMO "safety," they would never have been approved by the free market.
RW comment:
Who cares what the FDA says? I want freedom to make my own choices. If you are concerned about GMO food, then I say to you: "Chipolte and Whole Foods." 
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That reminds me of an old joke phrase, "I wouldn't lie to you, just ask me I'll tell ya".

That is the essence of GMO safety studies. Monsanto makes the product, monsanto says it's safe, the FDA takes their word for it and the rubber stamp follows. If you disagree with the FDA(monsanto) studies you are a heretic verging on global warming denier status.

The inherent ethics and usefulness of GMOs is completely beside the point. The behavior that persists at the FDA surrounding the "science" of GMOs, vaccines, pharma drugs ect...should be enough for any sane person to question turning over our food supply to this cabal of globalists.
RW comment:
"The inherent ethics and usefulness of GMOs is completely beside the point." I don't think so. What's wrong with freedom and letting all of us make our own decisions about GMO food?
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RW is a big libertarian non-interventionist. 
Give me a break. The smart people that can't leave the economy, the environment, the school system, or any number of other things is suddenly going to intervene in our genetics and get it all right.
THERE IS AN INCONSISTENCY SOMEWHERE IN THERE
RW comment:
No inconsistency, I am a non-interventionist and don't want the FDA intervening in the GMO question or any other question. I prefer a society where we can all make our own choices.
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GMOs being good or bad is a secondary concern at most. GMOs are not free market, that's the primary problem with them. In order to deal with market rejection (which rational or irrational makes no difference) their makers use government. That is the small group deciding what is good for people as whole even though individually people reject it. It's no different than a great number of things libertarians object to. 
RW comment:
Why can't you reject GMOs if you want? 

Additionally GMOs have property rights and intellectual property rights issues. The company that creates a GMO crop, animal, etc owns the modification. The trouble is they have no way preventing the modification from spreading on its own, naturally other than using modifications to prevent the organism from reproducing. Lastly many of these modifications are to enable the heavy use of various chemicals. If a person wishes to avoid the chemicals knowing a food is GMO is a helpful clue.
RW comment:
 Shop at Whole Foods if you are a libertarian and are concerned about GMO food. If you are a statist, get some politicians to back your view. Those are your options.
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From an email:
"...Farmaceuticals coming 2015 12 30.." theageofnowDecember 30, 2015 at 2:14 PM laments spontaneously the so important chance of consumers to freely choose protesting "why they don't give us labels?" I was in local farming store in Italy to get traditional mais for our few cows growed up grazing wildly in the winter with the assistance by us with only some extra foods (stored dried hay ) from our land so we can get our growed up meat from the male calbs when 18 months old AND WAS WRITTEN SO MINUSCOLE that mais was gmo that I didn't discover when buying ...that's not market in my view ...exchange has to be voluntary! Tell theageofnowDecember 30, 2015 at 2:14 PM if you can, thank you
RW comment:
Sounds like voluntary exchange to me. Did anyone force you to buy? On top of this, you say the product was labeled but it was "too small. Are you saying you actually want a government so that the size of print on labels is dictated?

24 comments:

  1. RW, you seem to have missed my point when it comes to the FDA and GMOs. FDA approval is not just benign "government getting out of the way." A good portion of the public relies on government agencies to assess the viability and safety of products and services. It's like people thinking banks are a safe place to deposit money because of FDIC insurance. Many people consider FDA approval of GMOs as an assurance that they are safe, meaning they don't have to do their own research into the fact. Independent research that the mainstream public tends to dismiss because of FDA approval has shown that there is potentially great harm in consuming GMOs. If you want your Frankenchicken and Fishmato by all means go ahead, I will be eating non-gmo.

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  2. For the record I also oppose mandatory labeling of GMOs. The Non-gmo project is doing a fine job labeling GMO free foods and I look for that label when I have any doubts.

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  3. It's not a "blind hatred" of scientific developments, it's a healthy skepticism of those developments when GMOs in general have been the subject of many other reports that contradict the claims of this WSJ article and when obvious unanswered questions remain about the specific GMO chickens and eggs discussed in the article. Such as, why isn't the meat of the Franken-chicken "available" to be eaten? Its "meat" is part of what makes its eggs...

    Also, your repeated assertion that FDA approval is "just getting out of the way" is disingenuous. If it is so meaningless, why does the article even mention it? You have to admit, an overwhelming majority of folks have been indoctrinated to believe that FDA approval represents the primary imprimatur of a product's goodness and safety.

    To quote Alan Greenspan in his chapter "The Assault on Integrity" from Ayn Rand's book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:

    "to paraphrase Gresham's Law: bad [consumer] protection drives out good. The attempt to protect the consumer by force undercuts the protection he gets from incentive. First, it undercuts the value of reputation by placing the reputable company on the same basis as the unknown, the newcomer, or the fly-by-nighter. It declares, in effect that all are equally suspect and that years of evidence to the contrary do not free a man from that suspicion. Second, it grants an AUTOMATIC (emphasis mine) (though, in fact, unachievable) guarantee of safety to the products of any company that complies with its arbitrarily set minimum standards. The value of reputation rested on the fact that it was necessary for the consumers to exercise judgment in the choice of goods and services they purchased. The government's "guarantee" undermines this necessity; it declares to the consumers, in effect, that no choice or judgment is required- and that a company's record, its years of achievement, is irrelevant."

    Apparently, you are smart enough not to believe this rationale for FDA approval. Rather your belief in the goodness and safety of GMOs, not having tried or tested the eggs personally or personally conducted clinical trials or even analyzed the company's record of achievement, is actually some sort of reflexive blind faith in scientific developments generally, or perhaps even worse, the "word" of the science editors at the WSJ.

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  4. There is also the issue that the FDA might have a vested interest in harming the public. Granted this is theory but the logic holds up: the members of the FDA are part of the revolving door between the chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies have an interest in keeping people sick and unhealthy so they can sell them more meds. Thus the FDA has an interest in approving foods that cause harm and keep people sick and unhealthy. That logic is enough for me to be suspicious of anything the FDA approves.

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  5. When GMO foods are labeled as GMO they suffer in the marketplace. Thus the FDA declaration that a GMO version not need be labeled as such. For the time being labeling saying a product does not have GMO ingredients is legal but in the past such negative labeling has been made illegal. BGH in milk production for instance, at one point it was illegal to label it wasn't being used. Through political fights this was eventually dumped. There were attempts to do the same with GMO. They failed or were overturned after a relatively short period of time. The Docket number no longer appears on the FDA website.

    The only reason non-GMO labeling is permitted, the only reason Whole Foods and others can advertise that the products they sell are GMO free is because people got some politicians to back their views and pushed back on the regulatory agencies. This is a statist system we live in and if everyone just voted with their dollars in the market the GMO interests would simply use government to make it illegal to say there wasn't GMO in a product.

    At that point short of doing genetic testing on the foods it would be impossible to know for sure. I suppose at that point one could argue well then, just pay to have the food analyzed to be a true libertarian. Which would then be stopped or hindered by the state.

    Food industries with influence on politicians use regulation to prevent market rejection of their products and GMO is no different. This is the world we live in and its not a rejection of libertarian principles to try and slow or stop statist advance within the existing system. It may be ultimately futile but it's not anti-libertarian to try and retain rights by political action.

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  6. The question for libertarians is not whether GMOs are safe or not, since everyone can make their own decision if they want to buy and eat GMO foods. The question is whether mandatory GMO labeling is a violation of the NAP. This depends on the expectations of the public. Does public expect food products to be GMO-free? If yes, then not labeling a product as including GMOs is fraud and an NAP violation. The argument can easily be made that this is the case. So, this is an issue of fraud, and if someone buys a product that includes GMOs without being informed of it, they can sue the seller for fraud.

    Libertarians act as if without government there would be no product liability. This is simply false.

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  7. Bob,
    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comments regarding GMOs and labeling. I'd like to clarify my position...

    I agree that there should be no labeling requirements (no FDA for that matter), and that this would force consumers to research for themselves, and only buy from retailers and manufacturers that earn their trust. I also extend this to financial markets as far as I do not believe there should be an SEC. The whole Madoff debacle should show to everyone how impotent the SEC is with regard to oversight.

    It is very existence of these agencies that lull people into thinking everything is "okay", the FDA or the SEC said so...

    My big problem is that the FDA and industry are lobbying Congress to prohibit labeling...

    Thanks, Bob.

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  8. RW - nice try but I think your comments fell on mostly deaf ears. Like the majority of people in the US, they want the benefits of force and coercion without being held responsible for the consequence. Education is of little use with this mindset.

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    1. That's a big straw man Brian. Way to completely dismiss the real argument. Is it too much for a libertarian to ask that the FDA not be in charge of regulating the food industry? If it was just market forces determining the viability and safety of GMOs I would be content. But the FDA distorts the market by picking winners and losers, i.e. which products get approval and which ones are rejected. And if you are naive enough to think that safety has anything to do with what gets approved and what doesn't, then shame on you.

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    2. Really? You are going to "shame" me because I am naïve? Apparently you agree with me that education is of no use in this situation since you prefer to "shame" me for being naïve rather than educate me. As for your "argument" RW never suggested that the FDA should be in charge. He simply suggested that you evaluate GMO's for yourself or take advantage of the non-GMO retailers that exist. Instead many seem to want to mandate labeling and this kind of political activity only enables the kind of behavior that produced the FDA in the first place.

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    3. We are on the same page as far as mandatory labeling. I'm against it too. I never implied that RW thought the FDA should be in charge, but he ignores the fact that they are in charge and thus distort the market. Would GMOs be as widely accepted in the USA if the FDA was not in charge? Perhaps we can look at other countries for a comparison, though admittedly an imperfect one: many countries in Europe have banned GMOs (I'm not condoning the banning of GMOs, just using that as a gauge for public opinion.) India is quickly discovering GMO crops are not all they are cracked up to be and their government is considering a ban. It would seem at first glance that when people in other countries are not being fed FDA propaganda on the safety of GMOs, they tend to reject them.

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  9. The point everyone seems to miss is the question of fraud. Is a GMO Orange still an Orange? Wenzel talks about no labels being used, but that doesn't pertain to the current practice.

    No one sells without labels in stores. They want to say "Oranges."

    But if it is GMO, is it technically an orange? I say no.

    Thus, the libertarian response: They can sell without a label, or they can use an accurate one. They can't use a false one.

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    1. I think this is the correct position.

      By RW's standards, labels at the fuel pump that say "10% ethanol" are unnecessary. We can take this even further.

      Imagine I'm a scumbag gas station operator and want 30% ethanol because my profits will rise and stupid drivers won't be able to detect the difference anyway until 5 years later when their engines explode and they don't know what hit them.

      According to RW, I should just call it gasoline and sell it for the same price as the guy next door selling 10% ethanol gasoline. Then I should blame the stupid drivers for unwittingly putting cheap gasoline in their car.

      RW is usually great on libertarianism, but sometimes he goes bizzaro-libwap.

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    2. "Thus, the libertarian response: They can sell without a label, or they can use an accurate one. They can't use a false one."

      Very good response! I agree 100%. The issue is one of what constitutes "fraud" in its most base form.

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    3. I've been looking for a place to make a particular point and I think your gasoline example will do. People just don't know how industry works in the free market to produce things so people know what they are getting.

      Gasoline has specifications, thanks to government there are various regional specifications, but it is made to specification. Even if there was no label on the pump we can look at the specification for the grade of gasoline being purchased. If it doesn't meet it, it's fraud because what is gasoline is defined.

      Where the government has not stepped in there are industry specifications, certifications, standards, grades, etc. These things are kept by various private organizations. Sometimes there are multiple such bodies. Sometimes one of these bodies is government. US military specifications come to mind. Often a material, process, or component is made to a MIL spec. We know what that is just as we know what 1010 steel is. There are also independent labs like UL which test to their own or other standards and then put their name on the line that the product meets them.

      For food there are people creating such bodies but largely they are being trumped by the FDA. The FDA is coercive minimal mediocrity. What it does is try to favor the large industrial producers by making everything look just as good as everything else. It often forbids higher degrees of testing or processes that aren't those used by the large industrial food companies. Processes which often favor cost and production volume over taste and nutrition. It may also forbid labeling product as being made to a standard higher than FDA minimums. Laws on the state level mimic this as well. GMO follows the FDA trend. They just decided it's the same as the non-GMO, making GMO indistinguishable.

      And that's the thing, there are varieties of every crop before GMO. The FDA erases or seeks to erase that to the food consumer. The industrialized variety often has drawbacks in things like taste but its good for machine harvesting. So we see wheat as an ingredient, but we don't know what type. There is still some ability for companies to specifically label that, but there's not much more than trusting them because these private systems have never fully blossomed.

      There is no reason that food can't be made to privately controlled specifications, by set processes, etc to various grades. Food can be certified by various bodies as meeting certain standards as well. This process is in place for everything from steel to motor oil and beyond. It works. It's just not used anywhere that people have been convinced that the product is too important to be left to the free market and thus allowed special interests to dominate.

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    4. After RW's follow up post, I decided to come back and correct my statement to read "I agree 95%", with my caveat being that the question of "what is an orange" remains in determining if there is "fraud" or not.

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  10. In response to your response.
    You want people to make our own decisions.
    Thats a false argument. The entire system is rigged. The same experts that say GMO is great say global climate change is caused by man and we need to intervene. I would love to have people make decisions on their own, BUT THE DECK IS STACKED., their dealing off the bottom of the deck.
    The combination of the massive propaganda machine of the gov which is controlled by the Monsanto's etc have us by the balls. People couldn't make the right decisions if their life depended on it.
    They have dumbed us all down so we can see what is right in front of us.
    RW is not dumbed down, but you are displaying a huge ego and instead of considering what people are saying you are hunkering down a defending your position.
    Go back to school on this one.
    They are killing us. They don't want to help us. Its not for our own good.
    If you don't understand that, you will never get. Those nice scientists are not just out to make things peaches and daffodils.

    Lastly, I am a big fan of your generally and appreciate the discussion.

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  11. Some great comments here! Sorry if I echo them a bit.

    GMO corn is not corn, it is GMO corn...big difference. It is corn with little pockets of poison embedded in the DNA and more than normal amounts of pesticide sprayed on it. IF food producers are required by law to list ingredients then GMO needs to be listed as an ingredient - this is the battle.

    It must be nice to "just don't buy GMO" but not all of us live in SF, NY or DC. I have walmart, kroger, meijer and a couple local places who sell the exact same food just more expensive. I have never even seen "GMO free" except on vitamins on amazon. My choice is organic or most likely GMO. They are nearly impossible to avoid so I settle for mostly avoid.

    Genetic modification is not a person or company, just like terrorism is not a person - it's a strategy, a process. Monsanto is a group of people however, and their attempts to take over our food supply should be opposed by libertarians just as vigorously as the Fed - for they are gears of the same machine and just as insidious.

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  12. RW, the problem with GMO under libertarianism is that the GMO producing companies would have unlimited liability. If for example they genetically pollute the food chain beyond repair (already a possibility) there is no way that the company or companies responsible could pay restitution to the victims.

    What you have right now is GMO companies literally protected by the state from lawsuits. To the extent that you support GMO companies you enrich them and assist them in tightening their grip on regulators.

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    1. Agree 100%. The GMO alfafa seeds have mixed with the non GMO alfafa seeds in neighboring fields and contaminated them.
      Also the FDA has approved GM salmon. When they escape and mate with wild salmon, the future of wild salmon becomes at risk.

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  13. Opinion polls show that 90% of the public want GMO food labelled as GMO. Therefore in a libertarian community, it is probable that law made by a court would require GMO food to be so labelled and the absence of such would be declared fraud. Rep Mike Pompano has introduced a bill which will make illegal all state GMO labelling laws and permit GMO food to be labelled as natural!

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    1. This is an area where many libertarians fail to see the forest from the trees, and are essentially LARPing. Walter Block does this when he supports 'libertarian slavery, and RW does it when he suports GMOs.

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