Ever since Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, which revealed the unsanitary conditions of Chicago’s meat packing industry, Americans have demanded to know what is in their food.
Today, consumers are still fighting against corporations for their right to know what they are feeding their families. Over the past 10 years genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have held a spotlight in Congress for their unknown health risks. Citizens and food experts are pushing the government to require labeling on all GMO foods, so consumers are given more information on the products they purchase. Scientists know very little about GMOs, and the consumer should be knowledgeable of their purchase. The only thing stopping the government from acting on the situation, however, is the political lobbying, or rent-seeking, of massive firms in the food industry.
The ultimate goal of a firm is to maximize profits, and in order to do so, large corporations in the food industry have hired lobbyists to sway the government. Rent-seeking is inefficient for the economy, as the money spent lobbying could be used in more efficient ways. Rather than rent-seeking, in a competitive market these firms could use their revenue for research and development on GMOs.
Unfortunately, it is in firms’ best interest, rather than the American economy’s to use their money lobbying the government, so they may continue selling their low-cost, genetically modified products.
The political influence over the food industry has been growing exponentially year after year as big firms try to remain leaders in the industry. In 2015, there were 704 recorded lobbyists representing over 250 firms in the food industry. These firms are almost always large corporations that would be damaged if a law was passed that required GMO labeling.
In the past few years, Vermont, Connecticut and Maine passed bills that required GMO labeling on all foods that are genetically modified or contained genetically modified ingredients. On July 23, 2015, however, the food industry lobbied Congress to pass The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. This bill deemed it illegal for individual states to require GMO labeling, overriding Vermont, Connecticut and Maine’s laws. With the collective work of the food industry, the large firms were able to prevent state governments from enforcing their bills.
The large firms in the food industry are highly incentivized to keep their GMO products from being labeled. If there were a big stamp on their products warning consumers of GMOs, many consumers would shy away and seek substitutes as GMOs have been avoided in our society.
The firms also argue that it would be costly to add additional labels to their products as the packaging costs would rise (if this were the case the consumer would ultimately bear the cost).
However, according to a recent study done by Just Label It, a labeling activist group, this is not the case. Their study concluded that adding an additional label would not affect the cost of the product by more than a cent. Going through label changes is a regular business practice in food marketing and consumers’ demands and interests often change.
Another reason the food industry is able to control what bills Congress passes is regulatory capture. There is a revolving door between the firms of the food industry and its regulating bodies.
Way too often politicians and regulators have switched to representatives of private firms for high payouts. One infamous corporation that has hired agents from the government to gain inside knowledge and rent-seek is Monsanto. Monsanto historically has been given an upper hand and has controlled over the industry.
To an extent, Monsanto employees have the power to regulate the firm.
It is important not to allow these large firms to control the information consumers are given on their food. Over the past decade food corporations have attempted to keep consumers from knowing what foods contained GMOs even as their health implications are unclear.
Industry leaders such as Monsanto are able to keep GMO labeling off of their products even though nine out of 10 Americans want to see GMOs labeled.
Labeling GMOs would give the consumer knowledge on what he or she is eating, a demand that the American people have wanted and deserve to know.
Class of 2019