Are We Citizens Or Pets?
Why the Debates About GMO labeling Miss the Point

This might be the only opinion column you’ll ever read in which the writer keeps most of his opinions on the subject to himself.

I have strong opinions about the safety of GMO food, for both humans and the environment — but I’m not going to share these opinions here. Because every time I read or listen to a discussion about GMO labeling, I hear people’s opinions about GMO safety. And these opinions, whether for or against, miss the point.

Let’s assume that GMO food is completely safe, and causes no environmental harm. Indeed, while we’re at it, let’s go even further and assume that it’s better than non-GMO food in every way. Even if we believe that — even if we love GMOs — there are no reasonable grounds, legal or ethical, on which it can be argued that GMO food shouldn’t have to be labeled.

Why? Because if you’re old enough to read and understand this column, you’re old enough to decide what you want to eat.

With every other aspect of food purchase, freedom of choice is, rightly, taken for granted. Many people believe that a vegetarian diet is healthier than a carnivorous one. Many people believe that, since humans are natural omnivores, the best way to get all the nutrients we need is to eat meat as well as vegetables. There are people with extreme views at both ends. Meat has been deemed safe, and it is legal. But we’re still free to choose whether to eat it or not. We expect that if we buy food that’s labeled vegetarian or vegan, then there won’t be any meat in it. Whatever our opinion about the ingredients, we have a legal right to know what they are.

It’s not about opinion. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about the right to make our own decisions about what we want to eat. If we don’t know what we’re eating and how it was produced, then we’re not choosing — we’re being fed, like children or pets.

I just listened to a radio program in which a spokesman for the agriculture industry argued against GMO labeling, saying that it would scare people out of eating the perfectly safe products that it’s his job to shill for. He was arguing that we shouldn’t be allowed to know what we’re eating, because we’re not as smart or knowledgeable as the people who stand to profit from us not having enough information to choose what we want to eat. He openly admitted that he was concerned that people would choose not to eat food that we knew from the label was genetically-modified.

I have two cats, and neither of them can read. Since I can read, and I have opposable thumbs, I’m mostly in control of what they eat. I say “mostly,” because if I give them something they don’t like, they’ll choose not to eat it.

If we’re citizens rather than pets, then it’s outrageous for the government to decide what we’re allowed to know about what we’re eating. If I don’t want to eat GMO food, you may think I’m a crank, and you have the right to that opinion, and I have the right to mine. But, as I write these words, we have one thing in common, regardless of opinion or education — outrageously, we are being patted on the head and told to stop asking questions and eat up.