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Understanding Proposition 37: The Fight For GMO Labeling

Understanding Proposition 37: The Fight For GMO Labeling

by Dave Good

Voters will have a chance this fall to decide the outcome of a bill titled Proposition 37. Called the Right to Know campaign, it is one of 11 statewide measures to be decided in November.  The proposition would require that food containing genetically modified ingredients taken from plants with altered DNA from whatever source be labeled as such.  If it passes, California would be the first state in the nation to require such labeling.

The No on Prop 37 side is calling the bill a “deceptive, deeply flawed food labeling scheme.” They claim that passage of the special-interest laden bill would create more bureaucracy and that costs for same would be extended to the taxpayer.  Prop 37 will also create more frivolous lawsuits, they say, which in turn will increase food costs. And the bottom line, they say, is that there are no health benefits to be gained.

The Non-GMO Project Verification labelThe Yes on Proposition 37 people have a simple argument: they say the right to know is fundamental to America and is a cornerstone of democracy.  Proponents want food products to have simple labels that tell if the ingredients have been genetically engineered.  For the record, Sunfood endorses Proposition 37, along with at least one thousand other entities, and Sunfood products are verified GMO free by the Non-GMO Project. 

According to the Legislative Analyst’s office, genetic engineering, abbreviated as GMO or GE, is defined as the process of altering the DNA material of a living organism to produce a change in that organism’s characteristics.  This practice occurs in food crops that are raised for consumption, the most common of which are corn and soybeans.

Some 94% of all corn and soybean crops harvested in the U.S. are produced from genetically modified seed stock.  The government’s report says that other GMO crops include canola, alfalfa, papaya, beets, and zucchini. It is estimated that more than half of the products found on the shelves of California grocery stores at present contain genetically modified ingredients. Currently, federal law does not regulate such food.  

Proposition 37 is not the first time California consumers have wanted specific product labels.  Some will recall Proposition 65, enacted in 1986, that required manufacturers to label products that exposed consumers to substances suspected of being links to cancer.  

Slate.com reported that the yes on 37 votes lead the no votes by an almost three-to-one margin. Californians clearly want to know what they are eating.

But opponents are not giving up easily. In San Francisco, Health and Fitness says that in the last few days Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and Cargill have contributed nearly $25 million to defeat Prop 37.  Big agriculture fears that consumers will be spooked by the new labels. And then, there’s the added cost of labeling. The Legislative Analyst’s report says that under the new law, retailers would be primarily responsible for complying with the measure by ensuring that their food products are correctly labeled, or, to be able to explain why a product is exempt from such labeling.

By proposed law, there would be only two avenues through which such non-labeling might take place. One is by securing a sworn statement from the product supplier to the effect that the product has not knowingly been genetically modified. The other exemption would be via independent certification.  If passed, Proposition 37 will go into effect by 2014. 

Learn more about California Prop 37 at www.carighttoknow.org 

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