I agree with Cowen on GMO foods. Everything I know about them suggests that they're not a health risk at all. I don't know how many of the foods I eat on a daily basis are GMO, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a vast majority of them.
OK - who cares. But when, say, Europeans get worked up about it I just say to myself "well, that's Europe for ya - they can be weirdos". More or less the same formula applies to Californians. I really don't care. But some people really care and I find that strange, personally. I found Cowen's post a little strange. For example:
"I would in fact be more supportive of the GMO labeling idea if renowned
food writers such as Bittman, and many others including left-wing
economists, would come out and boldly proclaim the science about GMOs to
their readers. Too often the tendency is to use a “I’ll try not to say
anything literally incorrect, while insinuating there are big problems”
method of scoring points against big agriculture. (Another common
trope is to switch the discussion to “distribution” and to suggest,
either explicitly or implicitly, that a net benefit technology such as
GMOs is somehow unnecessary or undesirable; dare I utter the words “mood affiliation“?)
GMO labeling is the one issue which has gained legal traction, so
critics of “Big Ag” just can’t bring themselves to give it up."
Why should left-wing economists "come out and boldly proclaim the science about GMOs to their readers", exactly? I have a vague impression that GMOs have no negative health consequences. It's more than enough to keep me from worrying about it in the grocery store, but I don't tend to blog on the basis of vague impressions and I think that's true of most economists!
Plus, as if it was any economics blogger's business to "boldly proclaim" this sort of thing, why left wing economists in particular? Cowen is acting like we're somehow in league with them! He does realize, doesn't he, that the vast majority of Americans (including we to the left of center) don't really care about GMO, and that it's only a narrow group of busy-bodies that seem to take an interest.
It seems strange to me that Cowen is dignifying this labeling stunt, for two reasons:
1. It seems like it's just a stunt. As Cowen cites, all kinds of medical groups have come out and said there are no health consequences. Giving them a platform is like giving climate change denialist or a creationist a platform. Why do it?
2. If it gets through, who cares? They're asking that things are labeled. As nuts as they are about GMO why are you getting so upset over knowing more about what we buy? It's one state a couple thousand miles away from where Tyler and I live. Who cares? Leave them alone.
A lot of people worry about this stuff for legitimate reasons too - associated with monoculture, the environment, and the social ramifications of agribusiness. This whole thing has a whiff of picking the worst argument of the biggest weirdos in the group and pinning the whole movement on them.
It hits closer to home, of course, when the same sort of libertarian busybody shows a lot of concern about a consumption pattern that I do occasionally engage in - namely, buying locally. I don't buy everything locally, of course. That's insane. We have a whole world to trade with, after all. But local content has value to me for a lot of the reasons I've stated on the blog in the past.
And the only ones who ever harangue me about it are libertarians. It can be creepy in some cases how much they care. The GMO crowd doesn't do this. In fact aside from a single friend on facebook who posts every once in a while about GMO stuff, nobody bothers me about that. But I hear libertarians complain about my buying habits all the time! My wife doesn't care as much about what I eat and why as some of these guys.