corporations. In nineteenth-century Ireland that share would
have been almost zero, as most farmers acquired their seed
potatoes not from seed companies but last year's crop from their
own fields. Still, farmers managed to plant a similar crop across
all of Ireland. If a large seed company had entered the country
and tried to acquire market share by selling better varieties, that
company's quest for profits might have averted a famine.
Should GM Labeling Be Mandatory?
The United States allows GM food to be sold without a label,
though firms can always voluntarily label their food if their con-
sumers value it. Whole Foods made this move recently when it
announced that by 2018 its food would be labeled GM or non-GM.
What Whole Foods seeks to accomplish by 2018 the European
Union established in 1997. All food from GM sources sold in the
European Union must be labeled as such (except milk, meat, and
eggs fed from GM feed, and a few other categories). Europe has
gone beyond labeling, placing tighter restrictions on the planting
of GM crops and allowing individual member countries to ban
GM products if they wish. A number of EU nations like France
and Romania do not allow GMO maize to be planted.
Why do the United States and the European Union view
GMOs so differently? One explanation is that European produc-
ers sought the labeling law as a trade barrier to benefit European
companies. There is little evidence that such indirect trade restric-
tions have benefited European farmers. In the 1990s much of
EU agriculture actually supported biotechnology. Europe treats
GMOs differently than the United States because European con-
sumers view it differently. For example, roughly two-thirds of
American consumers in the 1990s supported GMOs, while a
similar proportion of French consumers opposed it.
A movement has emerged in the United States to require
food manufacturers to label all food according to whether it
contains GM ingredients. Supporters of labeling argue that
consumers have a right to know. There is much appeal to this