A Chance to Vote on GMO labeling

July 20th, 2012 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on A Chance to Vote on GMO labeling

It looks like the fight over genetically modified foods is heading to the ballot box in California. This November, voters will decide whether to make California the first state in the country to require labels on products that contain GMO’s. California’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act will be on November’s ballot as Proposition 37. The Right to Know measure calls for labeling genetically engineered foods and, if passed, would be the first law in the United States requiring labeling of a wide range of genetically engineered foods.

Polls show nearly unanimous support across the political spectrum for labeling of genetically engineered foods. Nine out of ten voters in the U.S. and in California back labeling, according to recent polls. The United States is one of the only developed nations that does not provide consumers with labels stating that the food has been genetically engineered. More than 50 other countries – including all of Europe, Japan, China and, beginning next January, India -label genetically engineered food. The majority of people in the world have easy access to this information.

Proponents of labeling, including organic farmers and food producers, argue it is simply a consumers’ right to know what is in their food. They say labels aren’t a negative, only educational, and that they may encourage shoppers to seek out more information about their eating habits. Proposition 37 supporters contend that if the government, industry and farmers are confident that genetically engineered foods are safe, then they shouldn’t mind if consumers know what they’re eating. Opponents, including traditional farmers, biotech firms and some scientists, say labeling wrongly implies that genetically engineered food is unsafe. They say labeling is misleading, expensive and will encourage costly, frivolous lawsuits.

The proposal would require by 2014 that most processed foods disclose to shoppers if they contain genetically modified organisms. It would require raw agricultural commodities produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering to be labeled with the words “Genetically Engineered” on the front package or label. Processed foods produced in part through genetic engineering would be labeled “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” In addition, foods could not be labeled “natural” if any of their ingredients were genetically engineered. A majority of the foods (an estimated 70% to 80% of processed foods) on supermarket shelves that come in a box, bag or can probably would need to be labeled if Proposition 37 becomes law.

The measure exempts several categories of food and food additives, including alcoholic beverages, organic foods, restaurant food and other prepared foods intended for immediate consumption. Other major food categories would be exempt, including all meats, dairy products and eggs, even if the animals that produced them are fed with genetically engineered grains.

Estimates indicate about two-thirds of food consumed in the United States has genetically engineered ingredients. Enforcement of the act would be left to state agencies and private attorneys, who can file lawsuits seeking court injunctions against the sale of a product.

This could get very interesting. Expect some very big players in the food industry to drop tens of millions of dollars on this battle. If Proposition 37 passes (particularly in such a strong agricultural state like California), it could lead the way for more GMO labeling initiatives throughout the country, as well as pressure the USDA to take a second look at their stance. Go California!