A Postmortem for Prop 37

Prop 37, the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative, was rejected by California voters. If passed, genetically engineered foods would have had to include an identifying label on the package and whole foods would need a sign on the shelf. But, alas, Californians gave up their right to know.

I thought it was reasonable to ask for transparency in food labeling. (See my blog, What You Should Know About Labeling Genetically Modified Food.) Fifty countries, including the European Union, Australia, Japan, Russia and China (China!), already label genetically modified foods.

Genetically modified foods are made in the lab by taking genes from one species and inserting them into the DNA of another species. The genes introduced produce proteins that have some a new effect. For instance, corn hybrids contain a Bt gene, a gene from a bacterium that produces an insecticidal protein, and the Roundup Ready gene makes plants resistant to the herbicide Roundup. In the United States, 70 to 80 percent of our processed food is made with genetically modified soybeans, corn, sugar beets, cottonseed oil, and other GMO ingredients.

Prop 37 supporters argued that the long-term health impacts of genetic manipulations are unclear. In humans, they fear allergic and immune system reactions, transfer of antibiotic resistant pathogens, and unexpected secondary effects. And because weeds are rapidly becoming resistant to GMO crops, more herbicides are being used.

But opponents argued louder and spent more money to defeat Prop 37.
Big Agra actually spent close to $46 million to lobby against the initiative. They claim that GMOs are tested and safe (even though safety testing is left up to the manufactures and long-term testing does not exist), and compliance would have cost voters $400 a year in handed-down costs of label changes and lawsuits.

In the end, the voters surrendered their right to know.  For now.

Your thoughts: Are you for or against Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food?

What You Should Know About Labeling Genetically Modified Food

My job at Diets In  Review keeps me, a slacker, on her toes. This week, I had to pay attention to petitions to label genetically modified foods.  For that, I turned to the eloquent public health nutrition scholar, Marion Nestle, who examined the issue in her blog, Food Politics.

The Condensed Version

The Committee for the Right to Know is a grassroots coalition of groups in California that is trying to get the issue of labeling of genetically modified foods on the California ballot. Last year, 14 states introduced bills to require GM foods to be labeled, but none passed because the bills were fought by multinational agribusinesses. Now, the campaign has now gone national. Marion says, and I agree, that consumers have a right to know.

Man has been manipulating the genetic material of plants ever since Mendel first hybridized pea plants in the 1850s. It’s just that today’s methods of bombarding seeds with radiation and chemicals seem so unnatural. Modern day GM techniques began in a big way in 1996, and now, close to 90 percent of corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States are GM varieties. At time point, GM crops have not produced any noticeable health problems, but there are no long-term epidemiological studies that might find subtle effects. The FDA thinks GM foods are safe, but the fact is that no one knows for sure.

My gripe has more to do with the business argument. I dislike giving Monsanto (the company that dominates the GM market) any more control over the American food supply. Monsanto’s strict intellectual property-regulations are unfair to farmers and they divert energy away from research on organic farming. This clip from the movie, Food, Inc., shows just how powerful Monsanto is in the food industry, which leaves the average person no other choice but to eat their genetically engineered soy beans. Watch Monsanto bully the poor farmers. It’s pathetic.

The Bottom Line

Marion writes, “Intelligent people can argue about whether GM crops are good, bad or indifferent for agriculture, the environment and market economies, or whether the products are safe. But one point is clear. The absence of labeling cannot be good in the long run for business or American democracy.”  Ultimately, it’s more important to eat wholesome foods in the correct amounts, than it is to worry about whether or not they are GM. Still, Monsanto needs a punch In the nose.

Your thoughts: Will you sign the petition to label genetically modified foods?