A major food fight is brewing in California with potential consequences for all Americans, and it’s not the old-fashioned kind immortalized in movies set in school cafeterias. Proposition 37, one of 11 statewide measures on the docket for California voters in November, would require stores and vendors to label genetically modified organisms (GMO) foods by 2014.
"It's an epic food fight between the pesticide companies and consumers who want to know what's in their food," said Stacy Malkan, media director for the California Right to Know campaign, which has raised $2.4 million to promote their initiative.
The list of contributors to the “No on 37” campaign is a virtual Who’s Who of US food and agribusiness, with each having donated more than $1 million, including:
- MONSANTO COMPANY $4,208,000.00
- E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & CO. $4,025,200.00
- PEPSICO, INC. $1,716,300.00
- BAYER CROPSCIENCE $1,618,400.00
- DOW AGROSCIENCES LLC $1,184,800.00
- NESTLE USA, INC. $1,169,400.00
- COCA-COLA NORTH AMERICA $1,164,400.00
GMO’s, quietly introduced into American diets in 1994, include corn, canola, soy, sugar beets (labeled as “sugar"), and have been linked to infertility, serious allergies, weight gain and organ damage in lab animals, and cross-contamination with non-GMO plants causing potentially irreversible change.
On the other side of the coin, The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “About 70 to 80 percent of processed foods sold in the United States are made with genetically engineered ingredients.” UCLA molecular biologist Bob Goldberg insists: "Bioengineered crops are the safest crops in the world. We've been testing them for 40 years. They're like the Model T Ford. There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe."
So why are so many major companies resisting labeling? As one Monsanto executive said, "If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."
Prop 37 opponents cite rising costs of state inspectors to verify that labels are appropriately applied will be passed along to consumers, with potential for scores of law suits, and bigger grocery bills. "Prop. 37 leaves consumers with the incorrect impression that there is something wrong with GE crops, when that is not true," said Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the No on 37 campaign.
While the FDA requires labeling on sugar, salt, cholesterol and fat in foods, they have resisted labeling GMO’s despite studies by Mellman, Reuters and MSNBC showing that 90 percent of Americans are for labeling, and only 25 percent understand genetic engineering.
More than 40 nations, including the European Union, Japan, Australia and China, have GMO labeling laws as a result of citizen demand. But as countries amplify their biotech industries, others like England worry about their place in the food race. “We’re in danger of being left behind as other countries including China and Brazil encourage investment and surge ahead,” noted the BBC in a piece titled “Time for a re-think on GM crops?”
China is now leading the way in research and has genetically engineered a calf whose milk can be consumed by the lactose intolerant, another with omega-3 fatty oil in its milk, and a third experiment yielded 300 cows with milk that had the same qualities as human breast milk.
Dr. Kevin Folta, professor in plant molecular and cellular biology at the University of Florida says the biggest problem with the passage of Prop 37 “is that activists…will use a label as a warning label. And it won’t just be there for information, saying this product may contain genetically modified ingredients, what it will turn into is a way of targeting that particular product, by using all of the disinformation that’s out there…to leverage maybe a political or business agenda against the companies that create transgenic foods.”
Bottom line – it’s complicated, but one simple thing that might make a huge difference; “If companies think consumer objections are stupid and irrational, they should explain the benefits of their products,” suggests Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and public health at New York University.
November will be a national referendum on many things – and joining politics on the California ballot is a hotly contested race over Prop 37.