Founder’s Note: We’re pleased to introduce our newest contributor to readers. As we said yesterday, we believe Joel Salatin is the greatest Libertarian mind of our time. In his debut essay, he turns our attention to the fight over GMOs and introduces a commonsense solution that should pacify both sides of the argument. Take a look at what he proposes below… and be sure to let us know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the thorniest issues for Libertarians in the food and farm space concerns genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The tension is scientific discovery versus safeguarding food and ecology.
In the roughly 15 years since GMOs burst on the scene, scores of experiments, from feeding trials to production data, now disparage early euphoria and industry promises. Anyone who thinks the opposition is simply composed of Luddites and radical environmentalists has not studied the many findings.
This column is not about the efficacy of GMOs. It’s about how a liberty-minded person who mistrusts GMOs responds to this issue. GMO proponents scoff at naysayers as being Henny Pennies, while GMO opponents view this technology as hazardous toward ecology and human health.
In general, the anti-GMO community lobbies for a blanket ban… Citing the precautionary principle, organic, environmental and health food adherents dispute all the positive claims and see no redeeming value.
In contrast, GMO proponents lump anyone who questions the technology into the camp of nostalgic cultists who would like to see half the world starve to death due to lack of food.
In all my reading, I have never come across any anti-GMO treatise offering any remedy besides prohibition. The problem is that prohibition, just like the one on alcohol, seldom cures anything and puts ban advocates into the political kook class.
Does another option exist whereby a freedom lover can allow scientific experiment within constraints that aren’t bureaucratic?
Those of us who love liberty and also oppose GMOs are in an awful bind if prohibition is the only option. Technology geeks rightly taunt us by asking, “How do we ever allow scientific discovery if you’re going to shut down sincere trials and inquiry?”
It’s a valid question, and the radical anti-GMO crowd does itself no favors by refusing to answer the question.
Good solutions already exist in historical jurisprudence, also known as the rule of law. The notion that we must establish a new regulatory framework from legislation to agency for every new issue that comes along leads to tyranny.
We want to encourage experimental freedom but not to the point where it damages someone else’s free exercise of freedom.
If I’m a corn grower and do not want patented techno-beings on my farm, that should be a freedom society protects. Call it private property. Call it “Keep your hands out of my stuff.” Or, in the words of iconic news commentator Paul Harvey, call it “Freedom to do what I think I OUGHT to do.”
(Even Libertarians cringe at the notion that freedom means being able to do anything I WANT to do.)
What if a farmer who did not want GMOs on his property were able to call the magistrate and begin the process of trespass penalties if GMOs drifted onto his corn?
Suppose a neighbor’s bull comes onto my property and stomps down my award-winning rosebushes. Any reasonable person would agree that the bull’s owner is liable for damages. The sheriff would handle the matter without any legal expenses on the part of the rosebush owner. That is historical precedent and deeply imbedded in our justice heritage.
Now apply this scenario to a corn farmer who perhaps is growing chemical-free, non-GMO corn for a specialty feed market. Or maybe he makes cornbread muffins. The point is this farmer has created a market and brand based on non-GMO beings – in this case, corn seed. Along comes a neighbor planting GMO corn, inherently requiring promiscuous pollination… and the more ubiquitous the better.
Suddenly, the GMO-free neighbor has tainted corn – stomped-down rosebushes – and suffers from adulteration and invasion. In today’s convoluted American court system, not only is the neighbor who planted the GMO corn free of liability, but so is the owner of the patented beings (GMO seeds). In fact, right now the aggrieved farmer must pay a fine and royalties to the patented-being owner for the privilege of having unwanted beings scattered on his property.
Can you imagine the rosebush owner being required to pay the bull owner for the privilege of having his roses stomped down by the bull?
This inverted justice is both inexplicable and unconscionable. If the non-GMO farmer could, like the rose farmer, call the local magistrate and sheriff to exercise trespass proceedings against the perpetrators, it would put a serious crimp in GMO expansion plans. The beauty of this solution is that it allows scientific discovery to proceed but protects those who do not buy into the promises of the dubious technology.
If the owners of those beings knew that sending their promiscuous life-forms onto a neighbor’s property would result in trespass redress, they’d think twice about cavalierly releasing them into the environment.
A Golden Opportunity
On a grander scale, imagine the political equity, the diplomatic bridges, that such a solution offers to the relatively liberal, big-government, anti-GMO crowd. If that tribe started lobbying for property protection rather than additional laws and bureaucrats, it would make for some wonderful alliances.
My friends in the organic food and farming movement have missed a golden opportunity, I think, to build friendships with conservatives on this issue.
And if ever an issue begged the foodies and greenies to scream “trespass!”… this is it.
For conservatives, this response offers the beauty of being able to oppose something within a context of property rights rather than heading down the slippery slope of more government oversight. It allows both groups to pursue their dreams, unfettered except by the age-old maxim, “Your freedom ends at my nose.”