Opinion: GMO law and other Vt. laws have costly side effects

This spring, I came home to Vermont after graduating with a degree in economics from George Mason University. I studied many different aspects of economics, but one of the most applicable concepts I learned can be described in a quote by F.A. Hayek when he wrote, “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” More often than not, politicians create policies that, initially intended to target a specific issue, wind up impacting different segments of a population, a market, or a process. I can’t help but notice that while Governor Peter Shumlin wants to add transparency and information to our food markets, the GMO labeling law will inevitably have a negative impact on Vermonters.
By requiring businesses to label goods containing GMOs, many now have a choice to make, based on a cost-benefit analysis of labeling: do they undergo increased costs of production in order to label their products, or would the compliance be too costly for their business? One business, Coca-Cola, has already decided that such a decision would be too costly for trade, and as a result, they are pulling their products from Vermont markets. The Vermont Retail and Grocers Association estimates that other companies will follow suit, and that roughly 10 percent of products will simply be pulled off the shelves of Vermont stores, as companies will choose to leave a market that they simply cannot profit in. Ten percent of food items is a lot for Vermont grocery stores, and it’s a lot for consumers.
Faced with the need to label, companies will likely shift the costs to consumers, generating higher prices for goods. With potentially 10 percent of products gone, existing businesses have less competition and market pressure to offer lower prices for consumers, because there is less price bidding between competing firms. Jobs that involved the manufacturing, shipment and sale of GMO products to stores will also be threatened by this law. Low-income Vermonters, the ones who are most vulnerable to price changes, will be heavily impacted by labeling laws, as they will now have to commit more income to buying goods if they want to have adequate food. It’s unfortunate and ironic to think that progressive leaders like Governor Shumlin, who claim to advocate most spiritedly for the lower class, have created a policy that unintentionally raises the cost of living for the same people they claim to fight for. These price increases will be a burden on people living on the margin, trying to provide for their families in our state.
After I graduated, I joined the military by commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I have a service requirement that will take me to different homes in different regions. When I leave the Army however, I have a deeply-held desire to return and make a permanent home in Vermont, and to raise children here. I want to be a producer in my community, and I want to help others. And I’m proud that Vermont is a healthy state, and that Vermonters want live in a healthier, more informed world.
With all that being said, I get frustrated when I see politicians ignorantly passing laws that they don’t see the full effects of. I get frustrated when I see my governor arrogantly claim that he is pro-business, and then pass laws that cripple businesses, while mocking companies like Coca-Cola when they decide that they can’t bear the additional costs of trade in Vermont. I get frustrated when the pen and signature of our governor is used, more often than not, as a termination notice for businesses and employees that produce for the benefit of Vermonters. If Vermont wants to be a state that attracts innovators, that is livable for those who are starting out and for those who are struggling, then the politicians who claim to be looking out for us need to practice more humility in policy. They need to understand that well-intentioned legislation doesn’t always produce beneficial outcomes. If they fail to accept this humility, then it is likely that my generation will continue to vote with their feet, and leave the state of Vermont.
Ian Gregory Campbell

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