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Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Food Get Labels?

Backers say people have the right to know. Critics say the cost is too high, 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.
Darcie Griffin October 13, 2012 at 10:41 PM
And that's the thing- people who are regular soda and chips consumers, do they care that it is GMO? Probably not. (Not to criticize, I mean, I'd have a Dr. Pepper right now if I still could, and you don't even know how much I miss chips and fresh salsa!) I don't expect cola sales to drop at all. But for those that do care or have to care what they eat, this matters.
Bil Paul October 13, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Some aspects of this proposition remind me of the arguments for and against Measure N in Dixon. I'm voting for this Prop. 37. The large companies have been finding ways to modify seed genetics (for example) to introduce a kind of insecticide internally into crops like corn so farmers don't have to use as much external insecticide. I'm not comfortable with this. Don't fool with Mother Nature!
Alaria Sands October 14, 2012 at 04:36 AM
I received two different No on 37 flyers in the mail today. One said my food costs would go up by $400 a year, the other that Prop 37 would ban GMO's. I think prices for GMO food will go down, since the prices of GMO commodities are kept artificially high in the USA because they are not labeled. GMO food costs less than conventional or organic in most of the world. Are the agrochemical companies and food processors spending $35 million to save me money? Would they support labeling if there were fewer exceptions? Get real. They are spending a huge sum because they know that if it is labeled GMO, people will not want to buy it and they will lose money, market share and influence. They would also be accountable as adverse reactions could be traced. Since I don't want to buy & eat transgenic food crops, and organics are sometimes too costly or not available, Prop. 37 would save me money because non-organic food would require labeling as to GMO content, and I could buy conventional (non GMO food) for less than organic and still avoid transgenics. I was eatting soy products in the 1990's with no problem, and when GMO soy was introduced I could no longer tolerate soy. My body totally rejects the GMO soy- immediately and violently. But with the GMO corn I get swelling & bloating, and it can last for weeks. I need to avoid these foods for health reasons, and I also have ethical issues with violating species barriers and forcefully altering the genetics of other life forms.
Catherine October 14, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Will definitely vote yes on 37. Most if not all of Europe requires labeling, and it has not affected prices. This is Monsanto scare tactics.
Debby Gabriel October 15, 2012 at 12:55 AM
the more that people buy organic it will lower the cost. Yes everyone should know what they are eating vvoting yes on 37

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