One of the measures on the ballot in the November election — Proposition 37 — asks voters whether labels should be required on food that has been genetically engineered.
Genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified — GM — foods, are derived from genetically modified organisms — GMOs — such as genetically modified crops or genetically modified fish. Examples of GM foods include: corn, foods that contain soy, foods that contain cottonseed oil and vegetable oil, and sugar beets.
The Food & Drug Administration does not require labels on foods that contain GMOs.
Those who support labeling genetically engineered food and Proposition 37 say it is about consumers having a right to know what they are eating. “It’s awareness,” said Stacy Malkan, media director for the California Right to Know campaign, which is working to pass Proposition 37. “It’s labels. It’s the right to know what’s in our food.”
Supporters of Proposition 37 said they are concerned about the safety and reliability of the food. They cited studies of animals that had been fed GMOs and then had liver and kidney toxicity.
Studies also have been conducted that show genetic engineering can increase existing and new food allergies and allergenic responses, especially in children — who are much more susceptible — pointed out Zack Kaldveer, who also is with the California Right to Know organization.
“Recent studies and news stories point out the unintended problems with genetically engineered crops, including an increase in pesticide use, weed resistance, unintentional contamination of non-GMO crops and harm to bees and other wildlife,” Kaldveer noted.
“So it’s a lot more than just a concern about human health, its a concern about what we're doing to nature itself by fundamentally changing the genetic structure of our food supply,” Kaldveer added.
California Right to Know turned in nearly 1 million signatures, about twice the 555,000 signatures that were required to put Proposition 37 on the ballot.
“We have ads,” Malkan said. “We have a huge social media presence. We’re organizing people throughout the state. … All eyes are on California to see if we can get this done.”
Rachel Pachivas, 27, of Berkeley, joined the California Right to Know campaign in July 2011. She later became a signature coordinator and is currently involved with the campaign as a field coordinator for Northern California.
Pachivas decided to get involved with the campaign because she “started seeing how corporations are having control over people — our bodies, what we eat, what we drink,” she explained. “I want to see people wake up.”
Pachivas added, “There needs to be transparency. People need to realize what they are eating. I think there needs to be transparency between the effects of food and who is responsible for it.”
Pachivas further said, “We see all walks of life joining in on this particular topic. We do deserve the right to know. Enough is enough with these corporations making money off of us without our knowledge. You need a label. You need a label to know what you are eating. It’s about the citizens of California saying enough is enough, and it’s time we take back our food sovereignty.”
The Oakland-based Pesticide Action Network also is working in communities across the state in support of Proposition 37, according to Paul Towers, the organizing and media director. “It’s an important discussion to be having, about the fate of our food system,” Towers said. “We have a right to know what’s in our food so consumers can make informed choices about what gets on the dinner table.”
Towers added, “California is such a large market that if it happens here it can change the entire food and farm distribution system. … Ultimately, we will prevail, and we will be able to make those important choices about our food system.”
If the measure passes, companies will have 18 months to be in compliance.
Currently, 50 other countries — including the UK, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, China and Russia — require labeling of GM foods.
“It’s a huge double standard where companies are treating Americans like second-class citizens,” Malkan said.
Kaldveer also noted, “We are the only industrialized country left that does not require such labeling.”
Still, not everyone believes Proposition 37 is a good idea. Companies such as Monsanto [a leading producer of genetically engineered seed], DuPont and Dow Chemical have spent millions fighting the initiative.
When contacted, Monsanto referred questions to Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the “No on Prop 37” campaign. According to Fairbanks, the measure has a lot of loopholes and will clog up our justice system with lawsuits.
Further expressing her opposition to Proposition 37, Fairbanks opined that special labeling will be required for soy milk, but cows' milk and dairy products will be exempted, even though cows can be fed GE grains and cheese can be made with GE enzymes.
All meat also would be exempt, as well as eggs, according to Fairbanks. “Steak, hamburger, anything from a cow, pig, turkey, chicken or lamb [will not require labeling],” she said. Alcohol also would be given a blanket exemption, she said, even though some vodkas are made with corn and some beers contain GE wheat.
Food coming from foreign countries also would be exempt if the shipment included a “sworn statement” [such as a letter], claiming their products are “GE free,” Fairbanks said. No checks or testing would be required.
According to Fairbanks, Proposition 37 will result in more lawsuits against family farmers, food distributors, food processors, food manufacturers and grocery stores.
Fairbanks viewed the provisions of Proposition 37 as being too liberal, setting up a “guilty until proven innocent” dynamic. “The litigation is one of the biggest concerns we have,” she said. “The only people who benefit from lawsuits are lawyers.”
More information about the ballot measure to label genetically engineered food can be found at www.carighttoknow.org/.
Editor’s Note: Fairbanks was not asked by the Western Edition journalist why Monsanto supported GM food labeling in Europe, but is fighting GM food labeling in America. The San Jose Mercury News did ask this question. That newspaper reported Monsanto’s response as: “The company declined to comment further about why it chose to support labeling abroad but is spending millions to fight California's effort.” The news story can be found at this link: http://www.mercurynews.com/elections/ci_21452920/monsanto-fighting-efforts-label-genetically-engineered-food-california.
Below is a list of the top ten contributors to the No on 37 campaign, which is currently working to prevent GMO food labeling in California. The link to this information is http://www.naturalnews.com/036903_Monsanto_GMO_labeling_California.html.
Monsanto Company, St. Louis, MO, $7,100,500
E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., Washington, DC, $4,900,000
BASF Plant Science, Research Triangle Park, NC, $2,000,000
Bayer CropScience, Research Triangle Park, NC, $2,000,000
Dow Agrosciences LLC, Indianapolis, IN, $2,000,000
PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, NY, $1,716,300
Nestle USA, Inc., Glendale, CA, $1,169,400
Coca-Cola North America, Atlanta, GA, $1,164,40
ConAgra Foods, Omaha, NE, $1,076,700
Syngenta Corporation, Washington, DC, $1,000,000
An article in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 20 [http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/20/science/la-sci-gmo-food-study-20120920] reported a European study showing that the lab animals ingesting GM corn treated with Roundup herbicide [both produced by Monsanto] developed a high rate of tumors.
As reported by that newspaper: “In what is bound to stoke the debate over the labeling of genetically modified foods, scientists in France have published a controversial study reporting that rats fed corn that was engineered to withstand spraying with the herbicide Roundup developed health problems, including tumors and trouble with their livers and kidneys.”
The study was originally published in the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology. It was criticized for its small size by some geneticists, who said further research is needed to rule out chance factors before drawing conclusions. The original paper can be found at this link: http://research.sustainablefoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Final-Paper.pdf.
The most recent polling on these ballot measures was released this week by Pepperdine University, showing the Yes on 37 campaign at 67% support – up 41 points over its opposition. See http://www.cbrt.org/initiative-survey-series-2012/.