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Respecting The Autonomy of European and American Consumers: Defending Positive Labels on Gm Foods


In her recent article, “Does autonomy count in favor of labeling genetically modified food?,” Kirsten Hansen argues that in Europe, voluntary negative labeling of non-GM foods respects consumer autonomy just as well as mandatory positive labeling of foods with GM content. She also argues that because negative labeling places labeling costs upon those consumers that want to know whether food is GM, negative labeling is better policy than positive labeling. In this paper, we argue that Hansen’s arguments are mistaken in several respects. Most importantly, she underestimates the demands of respecting autonomy and overestimates the cost of positive labeling. Moreover, she mistakenly implies that only a small minority of people desire information about GM content. We also explore the extent to which her arguments would apply to the US context, and argue that any discussion of the relationship between autonomy and labeling should include not just considerations of consumer autonomy but also considerations of what we call citizen autonomy.

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Correspondence to Alan Rubel.

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Rubel, A., Streiffer, R. Respecting The Autonomy of European and American Consumers: Defending Positive Labels on Gm Foods. J Agric Environ Ethics 18, 75–84 (2005).

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  • autonomy
  • genetically modified foods
  • GM foods
  • labeling