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Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Food Get Labels?

Critics say the cost is too high and hurts small farmers. Backers say people have a right to know.

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 certain plant or animal products to be labeled if their 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 would enable 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.

Robert Jabalee and his wife, Mary—who own and operate Cafe di Roma, a restaurant that emphasizes heart-healthy dishes—thinks consumers should have the right to know they’re eating GMOs.

“We’re not hopped up on making a big deal about it, but my general thinking is we aren’t big on GMO food,” Jabalee said.

“There’s already enough cancer and stuff out there. I’m not for anything scientific like that,” he said. “We like the real stuff. We like the God-given food. We don’t like anything tampered with. We don’t even like MSG around here.”

Across the street from Cafe di Roma, Wally’s Marketplace owner Wally Daoud thinks labels will inevitably mean higher costs for consumers.

“I’m sure it’s going to have some kind of impact on price; I’m just not sure how much,” he said.

Daoud compares the potential impact of GMOs to organics, which Wally’s no longer carries.

When organic food became more popular in the past few years, customers asked for them, but when they saw higher costs, they lost interest.

“I know we don’t like it, and we all like to be healthy,” he said. “But when you leave it up to nature, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

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.

Previous stories in Patch's Proposition Primer series:

Analyzing Prop. 33: Car Insurance

Deciphering Prop. 30 vs. 38

Tom Barnes November 01, 2012 at 08:32 PM
$35 million spent on behalf of the chemical companies versus $5 on the other side. That seems fair. Good thing the Supreme Court has decided that "freedom of speech" means those with the most money have the most freedom. When more than 60 other countries require labeling the US looks like a fool by not requiring it. Oh well! If you support Monsanto, Dupont, and Dow vote No. If you support the people's right to know which is free speech vote Yes. Tom Barnes
John Webb November 01, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Tom, this Proposition was initiated by and strongly backed by the Organic Food community who happen to find themselves excluded from the requirements of this act. The supporters include; the Democratic party, The Green Party, Organic Consumers Association and Natures Path. Like most Propositions it was submitted by people looking for an advantage. This in advantage consumers have not supported in the market place. So special interest groups look for away around the competition to get their advantage. As always, it is the comsumer like you and I who will pay the price. One of their main contributors is from Chicago. Really, Chicago is concerned about your food. We need to stop falling for these screwy ideas that increase our costs, drive businesses from California and make the rest of the country shake their head when California is mentioned. We are smarter than this and we need to strike back by voting No on every Proposition which is submitted by a business.
met00 November 02, 2012 at 12:28 AM
<snark>I say let's remove the current labels from all food. Of course I also believe we should give five year olds revolvers with one bullet in the chamber... </snark>
Jasper Downs III November 02, 2012 at 03:19 AM
So John Webb is voting "no" on 32 and 33?
Yeparoo November 02, 2012 at 05:36 AM
People deserve to know what they are ingesting, including GMOs. It is interesting that Whole Foods is still in favor of Prop 37, but they have recently pointed out a major provision of the prop they do not like. Enforcement of the law is prescribed to be prosecuted by private attack lawyers. And surprise, surprise, those private attack lawyers were the ones that wrote the prop. Whole Foods prefers that the Attorney General's office be the enforcer of labeling laws. I'm voting NO on this one. However, I would fully support a clean GMO bill put together by the legislature, which by the way, is their job. Disclosure - Whole foods fan here. http://media.wholefoodsmarket.com/news/whole-foods-market-supports-californias-proposition-37
Tom Barnes November 02, 2012 at 03:24 PM
John, I have no love for the organic food industry and I don't care who originated this proposition or who supports it, I want to know if "pink slime or goo" is in my food. If I know then I can choose not to buy it. This is not rocket science. As for hurting the family farm, does the family farm even exist and if it does are they putting "pink slime or goo" in our food. I think not. I have never been to Whole Foods or Whole Paycheck as it is sometimes called.
PJ November 02, 2012 at 03:57 PM
The exemptions included make this proposition ridiculous.
PJ November 02, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Just a guess, but I think that the pink slime or goo that you are referring to has to do with ground beef, and it is not a genetic modification to food. This proposition does nothing to stop that or label it.
Alaria Sands November 02, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Organic food is excluded because transgenics (GMO's) are already excluded from organic under federal law: it would be redundant. The five largest global agrochemical companies are the largest donors to No on 37 and the assumption that they are spending +$44 million as a public service to protect consumers from higher food costs, greedy lawyers and loopholes is more than a little naive. The definition of market value assumes a knowledgeable buyer, and GMO commodities sell for less globally because of lack of demand or outright rejection in other countries, but in the USA they are invisible due to a lack of labeling, which acts as an artificial price support and allows the hidden substitution of lower cost GMO's for higher cost ingredients, which is profitable for No on 37 funders, but not in the consumers best interest. People wishing to avoid transgenic (GMO) food now have to buy costly organics, when lower cost conventional crops are available but can't be identified in stores: talk about increasing consumer food costs! Yes, we are smarter than this. Vote Yes on 37.
Alaria Sands November 02, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Without an enforcement provision, required labeling of transgenic (GMO) foods would be meanningless. If labeling were enforced by publicly funded employees it would cost the public much more and would be more vulnerable lobbiest money and political agendas. Personally, I'd rather the courts decide and that any lawsuits over it not be at public expwnse. The backers of No on 37 would oppose any labeling law, no matter how it was written or what the enforcement provisions were. I would have liked meat fed GMO's to be labeled, but I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes on 37.
Barbie November 02, 2012 at 08:11 PM
I've researched both sides of this proposition and realized this is an extremely rare opportunity that we even get to vote on this. Sure, it may not be written perfectly and it's a sweet thought to think it will just be re-written and we'll see it on the ballot again soon but I don't believe for one second that will actually happen. Monsanto already strong-armed Connecticut's legislature to drop their labeling initiative. It really is a miracle we actually have a chance to effect change after 18 years of trying to get GMOs labeled. We have tried the polite and patient methods. We have sent petitions with millions of signatures to the FDA with no consideration (BTW, the head of the FDA is an ex-Monsanto executive and lobbyist). I don't believe food prices will go up as much as the opposition says. Please read more global news on this article. The UK went though the same process and it was not nearly as painful as Monsanto will have you think. Many US manufacturers already make a GMO version for the US and a non-GMO version for exporting. CA has a large enough economy that this will force labeling to be a national issue (as it should be). Amendments can be made after it passes but a NO vote will be interpreted as we are anti-labels which couldn't be farther from the truth. I respect everyone's right to vote how they wish but let's remember the essence of voting - freedom of choice. How can I have freedom of choice at the grocery store if I don't know what is in my food?
PJ November 02, 2012 at 08:40 PM
"How can I have freedom of choice at the grocery store if I don't know what is in my food?" You can buy certified organic: "Organic food is excluded because transgenics (GMO's) are already excluded from organic under federal law"
John Webb November 02, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Jasper, yes on 32; no on 33. My point is we continue to walk the slipperly slope of giving the government power over what we do. Your comments indicate restaurants are self selecting on the type of food they prepare to avoid certain products. There is information open to the public to allow each of you to make your own choices on food. Every time we turn to the government to "protect us" we increase the cost of government and decrease the amount of liberty we have. Read the proposed law again and you will see they are selling a "pig in a poke."
bbq November 02, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Do some research on Monsanto. I watched a documentary online about them (can't remember the name) that made my blood boil. They are surely not looking out for our best interest. I am voting YES on 37.
Jasper Downs III November 02, 2012 at 09:38 PM
How do you reconcile your "yes" on 32 vote with your statement that "... we need to strike back by voting No on every Proposition which is submitted by a business."?
Lucie November 02, 2012 at 10:11 PM
john is a tea bagger so he votes how the republikkkans tell him to vote and then looks for excuses. then he gets caught doing this and hope no one notices. he votes for 32 because it will vote against unions and votes against 33 because he wants government to keep insurance from going high. so give government power when it benefits him and complain about it when it helps others but not him directly. 32 will let big corporations and superpacs control all ads. then he will say that everything must be according to the constitution or minimal government
Patricia Keen November 02, 2012 at 10:40 PM
GMO foods are killing the populace. Check out this video and vote YES on 37 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hls6CDw6dVM
Alaria Sands November 03, 2012 at 03:25 AM
The offered GMO vs Organic is a false dichotomy. Why should people who want to avoid transgenics have to buy costly organics when much lower cost "conventional" foods are sold all over the world? Many people cannot afford to always feed their families organics, and your suggestion really discriminates against low income people and people without access to organics. If transgenics (GMO's) were labeled, everone who wanted to (and this is about informed consent & choice for everyone, not just the wealthy) would have a third, much lower cost, more readily available, and more diverse food alternative in conventional. Basically everything that wasn't labeled either GMO or organic would be conventional non-transgenic food and could be located easily in a store. The same food processors that sell GMO's often also have organic lines, so having people believe that their only alternative to GMO's is organic is really a form of up-selling that suits them just fine.
Carol Redhead November 03, 2012 at 11:27 PM
The reason for genetically modifying seeds for food crops is so that farmers can spray their crops with the herbicides: roundup and 2,4-D. Both translocate throughout the plant, killing weeds, protecting the target crop. You eat the contaminated crop. The contaminated crops now can cause cancers, asthma, and changes in your DNA (birth defects, etc.). I know farmers who are forced by Monsanto to purchase their GMO seeds so that they need to use Roundup, and soon, 2,4-D. If they are able to find non-GOM seeds, their crops are sabatoged. If they grow NON-GMO seeds, Monsanto accuses them of growing their crops supposedly contaminated by non-purposeful cross-pollination, thus having to pay Monsanto a fee. Carol (former 35 year California Pest Control Advisor and applicator)
bbq November 04, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Monsanto has also sued a lot of those farmers in the northern US and in Canada, forcing them into bankruptcy and losing their farms. These are not nice guys, and Bill Gates invested in Monsanto (500,000 shares). Hmmm....Interesting.
Inge Scott November 04, 2012 at 08:33 PM
If wanting to know whats in my food makes me a special interst, I will proudly wear a badge stating so!
Inge Scott November 04, 2012 at 08:38 PM
If wanting to know what is in my food makes me a *special interest group* member then so be it! Are people who go to Carfax before buying a car considered special interest too?
met00 November 04, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Thanks Inge, Being a rugged capitalist, if this fails I think I'm going to start a website called "badgmo" that lists all the products that contain GMO's, or better yet, all the products that don't. That way when you shop you can scan in the barcode and get badgmo report on the product (green means no GMOs, Yellow means "you take your chances" and red means GMO's). It will have a $5.00/mo subscription fee and I'll make a fortune from killing monsanto! Great idea. Coming to an Android device near you as soon as this goes down in defeat.
Panglonymous November 04, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Capital! For a little multimedia kick, maybe offer the option of a refrain like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ovum-GjYWKQ#t=2m28s playing when the red report pops up. Could be quite amusing in the supermarket as the app catches on... :-)
met00 November 04, 2012 at 11:41 PM
"Every time we turn to the government to "protect us" we increase the cost of government and decrease the amount of liberty we have. " read about New England Compounding Center and how NOT having government regulation can kill you. Oh, and if you want to know how they didn't get regulated... try reading on how they were successfully lobbying for even looser regulation. "The company’s president and co-owner, Greg Coniglario, was also revealed to have hosted a fundraiser for Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), one of 10 senators to sign a letter asking the FDA to loosen regulations on the drug compounding industry. Raw Story (http://s.tt/1rS8s)"
John Webb November 05, 2012 at 12:01 AM
A few years back it was DDT. The liberal environment people convinced forward thinkers like the ones backing Prop. 37 to come out against DDT. As usual the people who suffered the most were the ones least able to protect themselves. Many have died in third world countries because all the smart people came out against DDT. Now you have these same people going after GMO. Keep coming up with all these dangers and eventually you will make food a scarce item. Living in abundance is not an accident. If you outlaw everything that protects crops eventually we will reduce the abundanced we have. If people regect GMO foods, competitors will advertise they are GMO free and we don't pay for another government agency to save us. Trust yourself not the some bureaucrat. Jasper, Prop. 32 is not backed by a business. Prop 32 stops big business and Unions.

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