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Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Denoted in Labels?

Backers say people have the right to know. Critics say the cost is too high, hurts small farmers.

What’s the harm in a simple label? It depends on whom you ask. 

Proposition 37 would make California the first state in the union to require that certain plant or animal products sold be labeled if its genetic material has been modified. The law would also make it illegal for food companies to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as “natural.”

Supporters of the Nov. 6 ballot measure say it’s just a label that will allow people to decide whether they want to eat genetically modified food. But opponents call the label unnecessary, and capable of injecting bureaucratic hurdles and billions in costs for businesses and consumers.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office said that since GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, a vast majority of corn and soybean grown in the United States is genetically modified. According to some estimates, 40 percent to 70 percent of food found in grocery stores is genetically engineered.

Groups for and against Proposition 37 came before the Brentwood Community Council in August and September. At their August meeting, local representative Sullivan Carter from CA Right to Know advocated voters to say 'Yes on Prop 37,' saying the goal is to label genetically modified foods, which were first introduced in 1994 so that people know what they are eating. He said that on Nov. 6, Californians will be able to say they're done being kept in the dark by biotech corporations and junk food companies, and are ready to demand information about what we are eating.

In September Sarah Sheehy, representing the California Grocers Association, spoke to the community council on behalf of 'No on Proposition 37.'  Sheehy said that since The proposition would ban products only in California that had been genetically modified unless those products were relabeled, repackaging will increase costs and government bureaucracy, as well as have numerous exemptions and inconsistent requirements, such as exemptions with food imported from foreign countries.

Speaking on behalf of San Vicente Foods, Sheehy said grocers are opposed because of costs and possibilities of lawsuits, noting that if products are labeled incorrectly, there is liability. She added that small independent grocers may not be able to absorb added costly record keeping. 

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office said that since GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, a vast majority of corn and soybean grown in the United States is genetically modified. According to some estimates, 40 percent to 70 percent of food found in grocery stores is genetically engineered.

Labeling would be regulated by the Department of Public Health, but retailers would be responsible for ensuring products are compliant with the law.

The government or private citizens will be able to file lawsuits that do not require demonstrating any damage was caused as a result of not labeling food.

The analyst’s office estimates that putting 37 into effect would cost “a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually.”

No specific estimates on costs associated with litigation are offered by the office, but it concluded “these costs are not likely to be significant in the longer run.”

Opponents of Prop. 37 believe labels could cost a lot more than the price of a sticker.

A study paid for by the “No on 37” campaign estimates that when lawsuits and other expenses are considered, the new law could cost more than $5 billion, and up to $400 annually for an average family.

Backers of Prop. 37 say retailers just need to follow the law, and voters shouldn’t be discouraged by scare tactics. 

A poll conducted at the end of September found that 76.8 percent of Californians plan to vote “yes” on 37, with 71 percent stating their primary reason was because “people have the right to know what is in their food.”

Nearly half of all people who took the poll conducted by University of Oklahoma agricultural economists said they changed their vote from yes to no when they heard about potential increases in food costs.

Another poll found that more than 60 percent of Californians support Prop. 37.

Contrary to public opinion, editorial boards at more than 30 newspapers statewide have urged Californians to vote no on Prop. 37.

“No” on 37 votes may rise before Election Day as opponents inject millions of dollars into the race with help from big makers of  pesticides and genetically engineered seeds like Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer.

By the end of September, the “No on 37” campaign raised nearly $35 million.

In contrast, the “Yes on 37” campaign, California Right to Know, raised about $4 million by the end of September. Despite a wide spending gap, the Yes on Prop. 37 campaign has garnered support from celebrities like Dave Matthews and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia stars Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito.

Both campaigns have been criticized for bending the truth or trying to scare the public, said the San Jose Mercury News.

California Right to Know cited a recent study by a French scientist that has been widely criticized and called insufficient by European food safety officials. It concluded that rats who eat Monsanto GMO corn have a higher rate of tumors and organ damage.

The study paid for by the “No on 37” campaign claims billions in costs, but assumes GMO food would be replaced with organic ingredients.

If approved, Proposition 37 would take effect in 2014.

Yes on 37 arguments:

  • Labels mean you know if your food was genetically engineered.
  • No current studies rule out health risks from eating GMOs. Labels would make it easier for people to choose to protect their families from afflictions some doctors say GMO lead to, including allergies and other health risks.
  • GMO labels are already a requirement in more than 40 countries, including Japan, China, India and European Union nations.

No on 37 arguments:

  • Labeling the majority of foods sold as GMO would be a logistical nightmare that would pump higher costs and government bureaucracy into people’s lives.
  • Reputable public health groups like the World Health Organization and National Academy of Sciences have determined there are no health risks in eating genetically engineered food.
  • Foods that receive an exemption from labels are special interests
  • Lawsuits could have serious economic impact and become a hidden food tax.
  • Prop. 37 could hurt small farmers.

 

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Elke Heitmeyer October 18, 2012 at 03:40 PM
If GMOs are safe, why are they afraid to let us chose them? it is Monsanto and DuPont and the factory farms who might have to change some of their tactics, if enough of the buying public decides they don't want to risk eating GMOs. However, consumers can still chose to eat the potentially cheaper GMO foods. But they should be given the choice. Smaller farmers have enough time to switch to non-gmo seeds, if they chose to. Packaged food purveyors have enough time to change their labeling without incurring extra cost. The commercials claiming huge cost increases are pulling those numbers out of their corporate hats. It is about choice!
B October 18, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Well said, Elke. 80%-95% of all corn and soy grown in the U.S. is GMO. Wonder if the produce from the Clawson Farmers Market and the new Clawson community garden next year have GMO's.
Jack Gold October 23, 2012 at 02:00 PM
The. BIG ? Is why isn't the applied equally to all food? Why are some exempt from the requirement of labeling. When that is adequately explained, then and only then, will this family of 3 vote yes on this Jack Gold
Jack Gold October 23, 2012 at 02:00 PM
The. BIG ? Is why isn't the applied equally to all food? Why are some exempt from the requirement of labeling. When that is adequately explained, then and only then, will this family of 3 vote yes on this Jack Gold
barbarad November 06, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Potatoes altered with bacteria genes, corn altered to produce pesticide, “super” pigs altered with human growth genes, tomatoes altered with fish genes, fish altered with cattle growth genes, etc. http://angeles2.sierraclub.org/news/blog/2012/09/election_2012_sierra_club_political_endorsements#Prop37

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