Consumer Autonomy and Availability of Genetically Modified Food

Abstract

The European Union’s policies regarding genetically modified food are based on the precautionary principle and the requirement of respecting consumers’ autonomy. We ask whether the requirement of respecting consumers’ autonomy regarding GMF implies that both GMF and non-GMF products should be available in the market. According to one line of thought, consumers’ choices may be autonomous even when the both types of products are not available. A food market with only GMF or only non-GMF products does not strictly speaking compel people to buy the type of products available, and a possibility to refuse to buy is enough for consumers’ choice to be autonomous. According to another line of thought, the unavailability of GMF or non-GMF products restricts the autonomy of those consumers who are unwilling to use the only type of products available in the market. From the point of view of autonomy, a food market with only GMF or only non-GMF products does not offer enough alternatives for consumers. Moreover, the whole point of the European Union’s requirement of respecting consumers’ autonomy is to enable an autonomous choice between GMF and non-GMF—not just to give a possibility to refrain from buying. However, this does not imply that producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, or public authorities have a moral duty to see that there are both GMF and non-GMF products available in the market. The requirement to respect autonomy is prima facie in nature, and in the context of GMF, other prima facie requirements are often stronger and override it. Not only the consumers’ autonomy of choice but also environmental values, other people’s well-being, and the autonomous choice of farmers, retailers, and other relevant parties should be respected. Thus, according to the both lines of thought, the requirement to respect consumers’ autonomy of choice does not imply that there should be both GMF and non-GMF products available in the market.

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Citations of this work

Autonomy, Values, and Food Choice.J. Dieterle - 2016 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 29 (3):349-367.
The Normative Limits of Consumer Citizenship.Angela Kallhoff - 2016 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 29 (1):23-34.

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