Proposition 37 gives Californians the chance to vote for our right to make an informed choice when buying food—specifically the choice of whether to consume food that has been genetically engineered.
In polls, more than 90 percent of us want genetically engineered foods labeled. Nearly a million California voters signed petitions to get Proposition 37 on the ballot. This is a homegrown initiative with huge support from the people of California, who want to know what’s in their food.
Those who don’t want you to know, and plan on spending whatever amount of money it takes to persuade you to vote against your own interests, include Monsanto, Dow, Pepsi/Frito Lay, Nestle and Coca-Cola. Major supporters include the American Public Health Association, United Farm Workers, California Certified Organic Farmers, the Consumer Federation of America, and leading businesses in the sustainable food industry, such as Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, Organic Valley, Dr. Bronner’s, and Eden Foods.
Genetically engineered foods have had their DNA artificially altered by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. This type of genetic modification occurs only in a laboratory, not in nature or traditional plant hybrids. The engineering of food to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is still a new technology, and it is being used to create new foods that consumers know nothing about.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require health and safety studies for genetically modified food. Scientists worldwide agree that by labeling genetically engineered food, we can help identify any adverse health reactions these foods may cause. While we wait on the definitive science, people should at least be able to decide whether they want to play guinea pig for the food industry.
In their media blitz, the opposition is claiming that a requirement to label genetically engineered food will mean a burdensome cost to producers and consumers, and will invite a storm of lawsuits against companies by opportunistic lawyers.
Both concerns are unfounded. Food labels already list calories, sodium, fat content, and allergens. Companies will have 18 months to add a line to their labels reading “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering.” The law also prohibits companies from marketing genetically engineered foods as “natural.” This will not raise the cost of your groceries.
There are no incentives for lawyers to sue, and no reason to believe companies would violate the labeling law or otherwise fail to comply. States have the right to require labeling. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act expressly allows states to add language to labels so long as the feds don't require language on the same subject. Alaska already has a law on the books requiring labeling for genetically engineered fish.
You will likely see defenses of the alleged safety of genetically engineered food from folks who make their living in that field, begging the question recently posed by Michele Simon at NationofChange.org as to why the industry “would object so strongly to labeling for something they claim is not harmful.”
The other thing opponents will never mention: Companies like Coke, Pepsi, Nestle, and Kellogg are already required to label genetically engineered food in 49 countries. Labeling genetically engineered foods is standard procedure in most of the rest of the industrialized world, including all of Europe, Japan, Russia, and China. People in 49 other countries already have the right to know if their food is genetically engineered, but we don’t.
This initiative is not a ban on genetically engineered food. It doesn’t say genetic engineering is good or bad. It says “let’s label these foods and give consumers the information they need to know what they’re buying.” Whatever your views on genetically engineered food, the bottom line is this is information people want, and they should have it.
So you’re going to be hearing a lot about Proposition 37 through Nov. 6, most of it in opposition (because “Yes on 37” will be outspent by at least 10 to 1), with most of the funding for that opposition coming from Monsanto, out-of-state interests, and DC-based lobby groups—primarily the front group “Stop the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme,” bankrolled by chemical companies and processed food manufacturers. Vast amounts of money are being spent on the effort to convince you that this proposition is scary, expensive, and confusing. But this is not rocket science. It’s just labels.
Since cutting through that flack and getting the truth to voters will require some effort and a lot of people power, we suggest you clip and save this—or download and print it. When your friends tell you they saw half a dozen commercials on TV last night and just got several slick mailers warning them about an expensive, complicated, scary food initiative on the ballot, show them this.
To read the full text of the measure and get more information on the opposition, go to carighttoknow.org.
Greg McMillan, Patrick McGibney, Lindi Doud, Pat Veesart, and Linda Seeley serve on the Executive Committee of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments to the executive editor at email@example.com.