“Corporate Decisions and the Dual Democratic Deficit in GM Food Labeling”

Chris MacDonald,
Melissa Whellams,

Saint Mary's University

To be presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Practical Ethics, June 2005


This paper develops a framework for corporate response to the dual democratic deficit that has manifested itself in the issue of labeling genetically modified foods.

A free market is commonly viewed as a democratic mechanism: it produces and distributes goods according to public demand. GM food labeling seems an instance of market failure: despite documented public desire for labeling, the market has not responded. We call this failure of an ostensibly democratic mechanism “Democratic Deficit #1.” The standard solution to market failures is government regulation. In this instance, the Canadian government has responded with a regulatory standard that calls for voluntary labeling – essentially relying on market mechanisms once again. That is, the government has failed to give Canadians what they say they want. Call this “Democratic Deficit #2.”

Our project examines this “dual democratic deficit” from two perspectives:
1) Does a “democratic deficit” always constitute a crisis? Under what circumstances is a democratic deficit benign, and does the lack of GM food labeling fit the bill?
2) How should well-intentioned corporations respond? Given the reasons for government and industry inaction, should individual corporations feel morally obligated to take action on their own?