Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Splenda and fascist food

Karen De Coster wrote a blog entry earlier today about Splenda, one of the many sugar substitutes currently on the market. She likes the stuff and is skeptical of the anti-Splenda folks' claims. The purpose of my writing on this topic here is not to neccesarily refute her position, but rather to make it known that there are libertarians out there who sometimes share the views of people who are skeptical of certain foodstuffs and provide a different perspective on the topic. Besides, I agree with much of what she wrote in her post.

It is certainly true that, as Karen noted, many of the critics of Splenda and other people who are sometimes referred to as health zealots or nannys do have a sort of anti-progress mindset and also tend to advocate government intervention in regards to food and, well, many other areas of life. To the extent that this is true (which would be a pretty large extent), it is unfortunate. People like Dr. Mercola for example have plenty of interesting and important things to contribute to the wealth of knowledge out there concerning health and nutrition, and it's a shame that so many of these people find government meddling neccesary to promote healthy lifestyles and/or attack unhealthy products and choices.

With that said, I certainly wouldn't hold an additional amount of skepticism towards the opinions of such people just because of their putrid politics. Going back to the discussion that ensued in the comments section following my post on organic foods, politics is something that is often unavoidable when it comes to reports and commentary on such issues. While those who praise natural or organic foods and criticize artificial or genetically engineered foods often have pro-statist and anti-market views, many of their concerns may be valid and bits of truth and wisdom can be found in their writings. The same can be said for those who defend genetically engineered foods and other foodstuffs that are criticized by health nannys. There is plenty of corporate-sponsored PR out there meant to improve the image of such foods and detract criticism of them. While bits and pieces of truth can be found on their side, there is also the issue of covering up for the fact that some of these foods may not have been thoroughly tested and that businesses may be concerned that such foods may not be profitable without attempting to mold opinion in their favor.

Politics also plays a role in genetically engineered food when it comes to subsidies and other forms of state granted privledge. As Kevin Carson noted in his Vulgar Libertarian Smackdown:
The corporate deadlock on world food production is almost entirely the result of state intervention in the market.

For example, the new plant varieties (including genetically engineered varieties) identified with the "Green Revolution" are heavily dependent on state funding of research and development, and on the state's enforcement of so-called "intellectual property rights" (really a state grant of monopoly privilege). One of the uses of so-called "intellectual property" is to prohibit the saving and distribution of seeds between producers, and thus to drastically increase the cost of seed inputs. In general, patents have huge concentrating and cartelizing effects on the market structure: and this is particularly true of genetically modified foods.

The market share of GM foods in the West reflects the imposition of regulatory controls on the free flow of information in the market. In the U.S., especially, the FDA acts on behalf of agribusiness to prohibit processers or grocers from labelling GMO content; food libel laws are also used to suppress the free flow of information. The market share of GM foods depends on forcibly preventing consumers from learning of GMO content.
And later on:
The handful of giant, vertically integrated transnational agribusiness corporations that control most of the food supply chain, from the development of genetically engineered seeds through the distribution of processed food, are enemies of free markets. Consider this quote from Dwayne Andreas, the former CEO of one of them (Acher Daniels Midland):

There isn't one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.

Or this one by ADM President James Randall:

We have a saying in our company: "Our competitors are our friends.Our customers are the enemy."

It would be hard to find any nominally private industry that's more of a state dependency than corporate agribusiness. Indeed, the distinction between "public" and "private" becomes meaningless at the commanding heights of the state capitalist economy. The giant corporations occupy the same position in relation to the state as did the great landlords under feudalism: they don't just control the state; they are the state.

So, whether we're talking about organic and other forms of health food or artifical, processed, and/or genetically engineered food, there are statist and anti-market forces present. Regarding genetically engineered foods in particular, you could theoretically refer to them as being fascist foods since they're seemingly dependant on state intervention and our tax dollars for support and may not even exist if there were a genuine free market.

Going back to Splenda, it may be true that the product may provide a nice alternative to sugar that comes without negative health concerns. Genetically engineered foods may also be relatively safe. Being a free market advocate, I of course oppose all efforts to regulate or prohibit such foods and I wish to see the market allow for people to choose to stuff their bellies with whatever they want. I personally prefer to choose, as much as possible, food that has been tried and tested over the course of hundreds or even thousands of years. I don't like the idea of being a guinea pig for foodstuffs that have not been tested over long periods of time and thus leave lingering questions concerning safety. The possibility of the Splenda patent coming to an end soon is also a good thing in the mind of free market advocates since it'll open the door to competition, something which the government should never thwart.

Speaking of foodstuffs that has stood the test of time, there is a sugar substitute that is all-natural that deserves more attention: stevia. The two drawbacks to stevia that I've heard is that it is expensive and that some people notice an aftertaste left behind that they don't care for. Aside from that, it's all natural and doesn't carry with it many of the negative health effects associated with sugar. Of course, with such a safe and natural alternative to sugar like stevia in existance, producers of both sugar and artificial sugar substitutes feel threatened enough to turn to the FDA to protect them from such competition. Click here to read about the FDA's anti-market actions in an attempt to prevent consumers from choosing stevia as a sugar substitute. The article begins with a telling quote from Jack Anderson:
"The incestuous relationship between government and big business thrives in the dark."

Oh, and one of the many things in which I am in agreement with Karen is that moderation and control is the key to promoting good health. No excessive nannying is necessary, or desired for that matter, and neither is hard core fanaticism. The most important thing is for people to free to make whatever dietary and other consumptive choices they desire.

*UPDATE: Karen De Coster has also posted the same blog entry over at the Mises Blog. It has generated some interesting responses that you may be interested in checking out.


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