Bioethics News

New Food Labeling Law

         ‘Victory wrapped inside a defeat’ ?


By Claire Davis


In his recent op-ed “G.M.O. Labeling Law Could Stir a Revolution,” published in The New York Times, Mark Bittman criticized the new amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 as “the weakest labeling law imaginable,” but went on to highlight a potential upside. Calling it a “victory wrapped inside a defeat,” he argued that increased access to information about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products will spur consumer interest in other aspects of food production.


Mr. Bittman named a variety of potential areas of interest, from the most rudimentary questions of where the ingredients in a food product were produced to more detailed ones, such as what pesticides remain on a food product, how much water is used to produce a crop, and whether farm laborers have health insurance. In Mr. Bittman’s vision, this “transparency revolution” will be a joint undertaking of consumers and industry producers, with consumers leading the call for change and companies providing detailed information directly on their packaging.


At Johns Hopkins University, we are developing a comprehensive labeling system to provide consumers with information about the ethical value of their food products. As part of the Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, the project, titled Consumers, Certifications and Labels: Ethically Benchmarking Food Systems, brings together scholars and experts from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Berman Institute of Bioethics as well as several other participants from the US and Europe.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.