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Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Food Get Labeled?

Backers say people have the right to know. Critics say the cost is too high and 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.

“Labeling is the strongest way to push products out,” said Carisa Torres, who protested in front of the Davis Monsanto office early this year. She said that some European countries have begun labeling GMOs and consumption has dropped as a result. 

“Are you not proud of your product?” she added. “Why hide it?”

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.

What do you think of Prop. 37? Tell us in the comments.

H.I. Miller October 14, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Additional points: -- the labeling requirements in other countries are different from those of Prop 37, which make no sense and have obviously been crafted by special interests seeking a commercial advantage. -- U.S. federal courts have found repeatedly that these sorts of labeling requirements are unlawful and in some cases, unconstitutional. If Prop 37 passes, state officials will be compelled to spend years and tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars defending a law that ultimately will be overturned. (See http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/12/labeling-of-genetically-engineered-foods-is-a-losing-proposition/ and http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/10/08/genetically-engineered-in-california-a-food-label-we-dont-need/. [Disclosure: I have no connection to agribusiness companies.]
Nomo Geemo October 15, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Mr. Miller, I have the right to know if I am eating food that could harm me. PERIOD. GMO food has never been given reliable independent long term study in this country. When its done elsewhere the results are always very bad. Like cancer-ridden rat corpse bad. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao_Hs2nNQDA Farmers in this country with ill animals often find that switching to non-GMO feed takes care of their problems within weeks or even days. Large Biotech companies have done everything and spent all the money they can to keep these truths from us but the tide is turning and people are wising up. Ive been fed GMO's without my knowledge or consent for years and, personally, Im MAD as HELL!!!
H.I. Miller October 15, 2012 at 02:52 AM
If you feel strongly about avoiding "GMO food," by all means buy organic or get the cell phone apps that apprise you of which foods in the market are GM. But you can't get around the federal appeals court decisions (discussed in http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/12/labeling-of-genetically-engineered-foods-is-a-losing-proposition/) that will invalidate Prop 37 if it passes. As to the rat study you cited, it has been universally discredited; see, for example, the analysis by the European Food Safety Authority at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/faqs/faqseralini.htm, and also http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2012/09/30/does-the-seralini-corn-study-fiasco-mark-a-turning-point-in-the-debate-over-gm-food/ and http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/25/scientists-smell-a-rat-in-fraudulent-genetic-engineering-study/.
Nomo Geemo October 15, 2012 at 03:43 AM
No, I think it should be up to the food producer to label foods that may be harmful. 40 other countries do it, it's not that huge of an effort and if there were ANY redeeming qualities in GMO's you'd think the companies that produce them would be happy to advertise "Buy GM products here!". The sad fact is growing RoundUp resistant crops has already led to RoundUp resistant super-weeds which can only be killed by a machete or the active component in Agent Orange. Guess what? GMO's have led to recent widespread use (on GMO's) of a notorious, carcinogenic Monsanto defoliant. What's REALLY sad is the only print publication that took any notice at all of this outrage was British. I don't see how any informed person wouldn't vote yes on 37. It may not be perfect but it's a necessary start- the YouTube video link in my previous comment explains why.
Christine H. Farlow October 15, 2012 at 05:17 AM
We have a right to know what's in our food and we have a right to choose if we want to eat GMOs. Prop 37 is a labeling law. GMOs were labeled an Europe and it didn't increase their food prices. We've had to add Nutrition facts to our food labels. We've had to label trans fats and MSG. It was no big deal. Labeling GMOs is no different. Manufacturers know if the ingredients they buy to put in the foods they produce are GMO or not. They're not being required to test these foods. Just label them. The real reason why Monsanto, their biotech buddies and the conventional food manufacturers don 't want GMOs labeled is because they know many consumers don't want to eat them and they will lose money on the GMO crops. It's all about their bottom line. In fact, Monsanto had come out in favor of labeling GMOs in Europe. Why in Europe, but not here? It's all about the money!!!
Nomo Geemo October 15, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Precisely, Christine. This is one example of the US lagging behind the rest of the world. Voters in California have a chance to change that and lead the rest of the country by example. The large multi-national corporations are pouring money out to defeat the measure because to them we are just dollar signs, they don't really care about our health. Once again please, PLEASE VOTE YES ON 37!
Michael Irvine October 15, 2012 at 04:22 PM
To the point made about buying organics to avoid GMOs, that is no longer an option. Neither is growing your own food in your backyard a 100% guarantee that the food will not be contaminated with GMOs. GMOs are uncontrollable, and they aren't being grown in some underground lab or isolated dome somewhere, they're being grown on regular old farms, right next to our town and cities, not to mention right next to other farms that have chosen not to grow GMO, or so they think. Look up any one of the hundreds of lawsuits that any of these "biotech" companies have levied against the small family farmers they claim to protect for "stealing" their intellectual property. Stealing!!! The seeds and pollen that blown into their fields, without them even wanting them to do so, are somehow manipulated to be seen as stolen property and the large multinational corporations sue the family farmers back into the stone age. Here's the bottom line: We don't know 100% either way if GMOs are terrible for us or if they are in fact the solution to all of the world's food issues. We all have our own opinions, but the fact is that nobody can say for sure yet. The reason being, they are too new, we don't know enough about them. For that reason, they need to be labeled so that those of us that are concerned about them can make an informed choice on our food. Keep in mind, this is not a ban, it's simply giving the public information to make an informed choice.
Jay Bell October 16, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Should genetically modified good get labeled? Ab-so-lutely... www.firebrandcentral.com

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