NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 5, 2004

The fear and hype over genetically modified foods is not too unusual considering historical controversies over the emergence of many of today's food products and agricultural inventions, says agriculture economist Phillip Killicoat.

Many new food products have been regulated or banned due to competition concerns from Australian farmers rather than for safety concerns, he says.

  • Australian dairy farmers in the 1950s warned people that margarine would cause cancer because it was "unnaturally" hydrogenated; officials then required that margarine be colored pink so consumers wouldn't confuse it with butter.
  • Newly pasteurized milk was originally sold under stiff taxes and regulations over concerns by small-scale dairy operators that pasteurizing milk was an "unnatural" process and gave downstream processors too much power.
  • When tractors began replacing the use of horses in farming, horse saddlers expressed concern over the environmental implications of tractors and the monopolistic intentions over tractor manufacturers.

In all of these cases, however, farmers and others in the agricultural business were more concerned about keeping competition out -- farmers wanted to keep margarine out of their butter business, small-scale dairy operators wanted to stave off competition from pasteurized milk processors, and local horse saddlers wanted to keep tractor manufacturers from putting them out of business, says Killicoat.

Source: Phillip Killicoat, "Food Phobias," Policy 20, no.1, Autumn 2004, Center for Independent Studies.


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