Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods: Whose Side Are You On?


Posted on 26 July 2012

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By Zack Kaldveer 
Yes on 37 Right to Know Campaign

This November, California voters will have an opportunity to vote on a simple, yet important ballot initiative called Prop 37 – the California Right to Know Act. If approved, it would require food sold in California supermarkets be clearly labeled if it has been genetically engineered.

There is no clearer David versus Goliath fight on this year’s ballot. On one side, is a truly grassroots people’s movement that generated over a million signatures in just 10 weeks, easily qualifying for the November ballot. On the other stands the largest anti-union, pro-pesticide, agrichemical interests in the world dedicated to saying and spending whatever it takes to hide the fact that some of our most important crops are being genetically engineered in a lab without our knowledge or consent.

As noted by Marc Lifsher in a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, “Proposition 37 promises to set up a big-money battle pitting natural food businesses and activists against multinational companies including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Kellogg.”

But the most notable opposition to date comes from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which has given $375,000 to the cause already, and according to their spokesperson “Defeating the initiative is GMA’s single highest priority this year.” The GMA’s membership reads like a virtual who’s who of anti-worker, anti-health, and anti-family farmer corporate interests, including outsourcing trendsetter Bain and Company, notorious polluter Dow Chemical, anti-union heavyweights Safeway Inc. and Bayer, and Monsanto, the world’s largest agrichemical corporation.

Consider:

  • Bain and Company has been receiving its share of anti-worker press of late and rightly so. The company literally wrote the book on outsourcing, making hundreds of millions of dollars by closing American factories, laying off its workers, then sending those jobs overseas while hiding profits in offshore tax havens.
  • Just this week news broke that Monsanto is being sued by a group of Texas farmers who say they were promised free housing but instead were charged thousands and poisoned by pesticides.
  • Safeway tried mightily to eliminate affordable health insurance for workers – forcing a well- known 137 day strike that caused many employees to lose their homes, shareholders to lose hundreds of millions of dollars, and shoppers to lose the reliable service of their grocery clerks.
  • Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide, whose infamous pesticide plant in Bhopal leaked toxic gas into the community 28 years ago, which killed up to 25,000 people. To this day Dow has fought against providing adequate restitution to its victims and those still suffering from the impact of the disaster and other injuries caused by the chemicals it produces.
  • Bayer recently closed a plant in Emeryville after receiving huge tax benefits from the Berkeley and Oakland City Councils. Meanwhile, just a year earlier, the company laid off union workers in Berkeley. Less than a handful of Bayer´s fifty factories in North America remain unionized thanks to its aggressive anti-worker campaigns.

These are the kinds of forces that have made defeating Prop 37 their top priority. And it’s their abysmal anti-worker record that no doubt played a role in the California Labor Federation's endorsement of Prop 37 yesterday.

Don’t be fooled by the corporate front group posing as a consumer rights coalition calling themselves the misleading "Coalition Against Costly Food Labeling Proposition" (CACFLP). Not a single legitimate consumer rights organization opposes Prop 37. It costs nothing to print a few words on a label indicating if the food produced was genetically engineered.

And if that’s not enough, key opponent spokespeople have a long history of abetting anti-consumer campaigns:

  • Maryann Marino is the Southern California regional director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) - which according to Public Citizen “…masquerade as grassroots citizens groups spontaneously manifesting citizen anger against so-called ‘lawsuit abuse.’
  • And then there’s the man leading the opposition effort - Tom Hiltachk - a former tobacco industry lobbyist who was also the lead proponent of Proposition 23, the oil-industry funded attempt to suspend California’s global warming law.

The question before voters could not be more stark: Do you side with anti-worker, pro-polluter forces epitomized by the GMA and deceptive corporate front groups, or do you side with 90% of California voters, the California Labor Federation, family farmers, the Consumer Federation of America, the United Farm Workers, California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Consumers Association, Public Citizen, the California League of Conservation Voters, the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club -- and our fundamental, democratic right to know what we are putting in our bodies?

Initiative Background: What is a GMO?

A genetically engineered food (also known as genetically modified organism, or GMO) is a plant or animal product that has had its DNA artificially altered by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. A classic example is corn that contains the pesticide Bt toxin inside the corn itself. In other words, we’re talking about food that has been created in a laboratory and altered at the molecular level, and not found anywhere in nature.

Prop 37 would simply provide Californians with the right to know what we’re eating, what we feed our children, and whether we have the ability to make informed choices about what we eat.

Overwhelming Public Support for the Right to Know

Before you get bombarded by tens of millions of dollars of misleading ads bankrolled by big business interests dedicated to keeping consumers in the dark, consider this: an overwhelming majority of Californians want to know if their food is genetically engineered.

Polls show nearly unanimous support across the political spectrum for such labeling. This is one of the few issues in America that enjoys broad bipartisan support: 89% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats want genetically altered foods to be labeled (Mellman 2012, Reuters 2010, Zogby 2012). An April poll by San Francisco's local CBS TV station found that 91% of Californians back labeling.

Nearly 50 Countries Already Label GMO Foods

Countries across the globe already require labeling of genetically engineered food – including all of Europe, Australia, Japan, and even China and Russia. So the very same companies fighting our right to know what’s in our food in California provide this same information to their customers in other countries. There hasn’t been any notable increase in food prices in those countries – only a more informed public. Let’s be frank: every food product you purchase has labeling on it already. Does anyone really believe adding one more line is going to hurt consumers?

But there are other reasons Californians deserve labeling and increased consumer choice:

GMO Health Concerns Rising: There is sufficient evidence – and an increasing number of studies - raising doubts and concerns about the safety of genetically engineered foods. A growing body of science suggests that they may be contributing to rising rates of allergies, especially among children.

Pesticide Use Increases, Food Supply Doesn’t: The latest data shows genetically engineered crops require more pesticides over the past 15 years, not less – giving rise to superweeds and superbugs. These pesticides are manufactured by the same companies that told us DDT or Agent Orange were safe. And there is no reason to believe genetically engineered foods are more productive.

Who Do You Trust: Public Interest Advocates or Big Business?

Opponents have built a business model that relies on a lack of food system transparency, the exploitation of workers, and the avoidance of tax responsibilities. Prop 37 threatens their stranglehold on consumer choice – which prevents small farmers, the organics industry, and truly natural food producers from competing on an equal playing field.

The debate over the efficacy of genetically engineered foods should and will continue. In the meantime, we should all have the right to know what we’re eating and decide for ourselves what is best for our families. Vote Yes on Prop 37.

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Zack is the assistant media director for the Yes on Prop 37 campaign. Zack is the former Communications Director of the Consumer Federation of California and Editor of the California Progress Report. He has also worked as an advocate, writer, and strategist on a diverse range of local, statewide, and national issues including environmental and economic justice, education reform, privacy rights, election integrity, corporate accountability, peace and nuclear non-proliferation, and human rights.

Join the rest of the world. Label GMO food. Restrict their polluting fields with naturally reproductive seeds. Understand Monsanto is a corporate criminal.

Of course, what a great site and enlightening posts, I surely will bookmark your blog.Have an awsome day!

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Good luck California, I hope you get this passed so the tipping point that Jeffrey Smith talks about will be realized.

I can find nearly every entity mentioned here to see who they are except one; "family farmers". Is there something that shows family farmers are supporting this? I am also curios why ever other group is given the respect of capitalization and Family Farmers were not.

In your reference to farmers suing Monsanto is it not correct that it is farmworkers suing? I know it is minor however there is a large difference between the two.

Thank you.

Well put Zack. It would be nice to know what is in the food I buy regularly at the grocery store.

Nice article, fires me up! Go prop 37

What is actual cost to the farmers, middle men, and retail companies that will have to disclose the GMO? Is it just a sticker put on their foods? That doesn't seem to be a very heavy burden, does it?

Ultimately, wouldn't it be a benefit to the actual food producers to label their crops and charge more for non-GMO products, like say, organic vs conventional pricing that you see currently in our grocery stores?

Some people couldn't care less about the food they eat, in which case how would labeling the food affect the crop manufacturers? People who are comfortable eating pink slime or partially hydrogenated oils probably won't read or care about GMO food, so why is the industry pushing back against labeling?

the actual cost to those forced to label genetically modified foods is an informed consumer. and when people are informed, based on factual evidence, they tend to make good decisions.

Labeling genetically modified ingredients serves all . . . a label indicating the presence of GMOs will help consumers select the food products that meet thier personal preference.

I personally prefer to avoid GMOs for the safety of my children's health since there has not been any human trials to prove genetically modified foods are harmless to children or for any human of any age.

The FDA does not protect us in this regard . . . we have to demand our right to know what's in our food to protect ourselves and our families.

Excellent article! Thanks for posting!

Nice article!

Any free market requires transparency of information for the laws of supply and demand to work efficiently. What Monsanto and other providers of GMO foods are attempting to do, is boost their profits by keeping consumers in the dark, as they know many people will avoid their GMO foods if they know what they're buying.

I saw the same thing play out in rBST in Milk a few years back - all the producers which used that fought tooth and nail to prevent such disclosure, but it is the customer's right to know, and to pay more if they want to avoid this. Now, I see a huge amount of milk which advertises being rBST-free - obviously showing there is a market for people concerned about this. The only losers were the people trying to force rBST upon unsuspecting consumers.

It's the same case here. If people really don't want to consume GMOs, for whatever reasons, real or imagined, it is their right to know if a product is made with them, and vote with their wallet. To prevent such decisions by keeping this knowledge hidden is anti-free market, and immoral and unethical as well.

Go prop 37!

I agree 100% Mike. It's important to note, Prop 37 has nothing to do with telling people what they can or can’t eat, or what is dangerous and what isn’t, but rather, it strikes at something far more fundamental: our freedom to choose what is best for ourselves and our family, based on our personal values and concerns. As it stands today, this choice and basic freedom is being made for us by big business interests that care about protecting profits, not the public interest.

The same logic applies to ALL other labeling, be it grams of fat, calories, or sucrose. If you’re eating a donut you want to know how much fat and sugar is in it. This doesn’t mean you will stop eating them, or that anyone is suggesting you shouldn’t. What such labeling does do is provide consumers with the critical information they need to make an informed choice.

In fact, the very same arguments now being made by big agribusiness and the chemical industry in opposition to your right to know were made by the fast food lobby when they were recently required to provide calories and fat content on their menus. The sky is falling they cried! The costs were too burdensome they yelled! Value meals would skyrocket they proclaimed!

Now you can go into any fast food restaurant and you’ll get the facts about what you’re eating. No crisis, no rising costs, and no repercussions – only a more informed public. As you said Mike, Transparency is essential for the free market to operate properly.

On health concerns, what's also important to understand is we have a shocking lack of data about their health impacts because the safety and efficacy of GMO crops have never been subject to any long term independent research (or studies). In fact, the FDA refuses to even require such study and says it relies on producers to determine safety. In other words, the current system is "trust the companies."

Perhaps that’s why just this past June, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for mandatory pre-market safety testing of genetically engineered foods as part of a revised policy voted on at its annual meeting.

If Prop 37 passes, there will be no increased cost to consumers. The initiative simply requires adding a little bit of ink to existing labels. Companies have 18 months to comply with the new labeling law, and they typically change their labels within this time period anyway!

Furthermore, we CAN’T determine the real effects of GMO products on peoples health if there aren’t labels or rigorous study. Good science, just like the economy, needs transparency.

Informative! I will vote yes on 37.