From a Politico report on an "agricultural summit" that attracted Republican presidential candidates to Iowa over the weekend:
Bush made an effort to humanize himself. His best moment, in terms of connecting with the crowd, came as he endorsed mandatory country-of-origin labeling.
"When I go to Publix in Coral Gables, which I'll do tomorrow after church, to prepare for Sunday Fun Day in my house," he said, "we'll be cooking Iowa beef and we'll be making guacamole. I will want to know where that avocado comes from."
Maybe Mr. Bush hasn't fully thought this one through. The fact that Mr. Bush wants to know where his avocado comes from should be plenty of incentive for his grocer to provide him the information without a law from Washington forcing the grocer to do that. In fact, businesses do things aimed at pleasing customers, or meeting customer desires, all the time even without laws from Washington forcing the businesses to do that.
Mr. Bush might look to an example from his own state of Florida. Disney spends a ton of time and energy training its theme park employees to smile and be nice to customers. It does this even without a federal friendliness mandate for theme park employees. It does it because the company's management wants to delight customers. The motivations for this are partly economic — companies that delight customers can charge higher prices, increase return visits, and make higher profits — and partly moral, or interpersonal — there's something satisfying, or at least consistent with most religions and moral systems, in treating customers they way they want to be treated. "It's the right thing to do," as Bill Clinton or Barack Obama might say.
In fact, if Publix doesn't label where its avocados come from, and enough customers feel strongly enough about the issue, then those customers might start shopping somewhere else, like Whole Foods, or Walmart, or the local farmstand or farmer's market. Or some new grocery store might enter the market pitching customers to shop there because they'll accurately label where their produce is sourced.
It may also be the case that most consumers aren't like Mr. Bush, and they don't really care whether the avocado is from California, China, or Mexico, they just care that it is fresh and flavorful and healthy. It may be that the labeling requirements aren't really designed to help consumers at all, but to help American farmers who want to use xenophobia to get higher prices for their American-grown produce by scaring consumers about foreign-born produce. In that case, the law would be necessary to get grocers to play along with the game of giving their customers a bad deal (higher prices because of the extra burden of labeling origins) so that the farmers can get a better deal (higher prices).
I'm not saying that there aren't some cases where consumer protection laws may be necessary to protect customers from unscrupulous store-owners or market failures. What I am saying is that it's not clear to me that this is one of those cases.