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Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Denoted in 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.

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.

Groups for and against Proposition 37 came before the Brentwood Community Council in August and September. At their August meeting, local representative Sullivan Carter from CA Right to Know advocated voters to say 'Yes on Prop 37,' saying the goal is to label genetically modified foods, which were first introduced in 1994 so that people know what they are eating. He said that on Nov. 6, Californians will be able to say they're done being kept in the dark by biotech corporations and junk food companies, and are ready to demand information about what we are eating.

In September Sarah Sheehy, representing the California Grocers Association, spoke to the community council on behalf of 'No on Proposition 37.'  Sheehy said that since The proposition would ban products only in California that had been genetically modified unless those products were relabeled, repackaging will increase costs and government bureaucracy, as well as have numerous exemptions and inconsistent requirements, such as exemptions with food imported from foreign countries.

Speaking on behalf of San Vicente Foods, Sheehy said grocers are opposed because of costs and possibilities of lawsuits, noting that if products are labeled incorrectly, there is liability. She added that small independent grocers may not be able to absorb added costly record keeping. 

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.

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Marvion October 20, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Please stay 500 yards away from any organic/farmers market. Cut the roadblocks now & keep the OMG's off planet. (OMG backwards = gemakeover, another priceless gemstone of no beauty)
barbara glazis October 21, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Why are some foods exempt? If one food has to advise of gmo, all should. There should be NO exemptions.
Breezy Bree October 21, 2012 at 05:28 AM
If I were legally able to vote, it'd be a big fat YES for prop 37. However, only a junior in high school this isn't possible. This is OUR food. OUR bodies. Misleading big corporations are treating our food like experiments and we're their test subjects. Manipulating the growth of animals to grow unnaturally faster, ( as well as subjecting them to crowded, inhumane conditions... the slaughterhouses are even worse.),and modifying plants which effects aren't even certain from our consumption. I'm so reluctant to even eat meat let alone food from this. I need security and others too so that we know what we're putting inside of us! Chain grocery stores are not by first choice but when I have to go there it'd be nice to feel at least somewhat secure to know which is natural and which is manipulated junk. God put this food on the earth, don't mess it up!
Jeffrey Dach October 21, 2012 at 10:49 AM
GMO Food - The Greatest Threat to Health in the History of Western Civilization Jeff Smith's book, Seeds of Deception, compiles 20 years of data on the health risks of genetically modified foods from scientists such as Arpad Pusztai and Trudy Netherwood who reported that feeding GMO food to laboratory animals resulted in thousands of sick, sterile and dead laboratory animals. The greater health issue is the increasing food allergies resulting from consumption of GMO food in the US. While American consumers remain oblivious, GMO Foods have been introduced into the US food supply without safety testing or even labeling. Already 80% of our US food supply is GMO, affecting corn, soy, cotton seed oil and canola oil. Many civilized nations have banned GMO Food. The British Medical Association has asked for a moratorium on GMO foods. To Read More..... http://jeffreydach.com/2008/08/14/genetically-modified-gmo-food-the-great-scandal-by-jeffrey-dach-md.aspx Jeffrey Dach MD
Marina Khubesrian October 21, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Interesting that the corporations spending millions to kill this bill are pesticide corps and makers of the GM seeds. How is it that 40 other countries manage to get their foods labeled without bankrupting grocers and farmers? GM corn and soy products are rampant in our food chain and create inflammation in our bodies leading to a host of diseases. We have a right to know and to choose our food sources.
Kathy October 25, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Absolutely GMO foods should be labeled...our food sources have been tampered with more than we know...
CarolK October 28, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Hi Barbara, There's a deception involved in those ads you've watched. The only foods that need to be labeled are those foods at risk of containing GMO's. This covers foods that are sold in markets, packaged and labeled (as opposed to prepared foods in restaurants). Currently "foods at risk" are crops. Animal products, which includes that which comes from them (milk and cheese etc), thankfully, are not being altered and sold on the food market,… yet. Products that combine both possibly altered and unaltered contents such as dog food which combines both animal products and crops (corn and other GMO altered grains) need to be labeled etc. I hope this helps you to better understand the intentional deception those TV commercials are aiming at you. For more in-depth info, try this site. http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/prop_37_opponents_have_holes_in_their_loopholes/ Do a little research on what Monsanto and DuPont are doing to alter the DNA of crops and you will lose your appetite.
CarolK October 28, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Vote "Yes" on Proposition 37. Label GMO products. A great summation of GMO's: http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/opinion/ci_21808269/yes-prop-37 "Proposition 37 does not ban GMO's. It simply requires products that contain them to say so. We have a right to know what is in our food, don't we? If you are still in doubt about which way to vote, ask yourself this question "Do I believe Monsanto is as concerned about my welfare as they are about their own profits?"

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