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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.

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.
kim October 29, 2012 at 04:19 PM
do your research on this.... Monsanto is one of the big backers for the No vote on this proposition..... we have a right to now what is in the food we buy, consume and feed our children... as far as consumers filing lawsuits, there would be no damages so the company would be ordered to comply with labeling IF there was a lawsuit filed... watch the documentary Genetic Roulette, it will open your eyes.... vote YES on this proposition... Los Angeles City council voted that week and it was unanimous for YES on 37
kim October 29, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Over 50 other countries already label their food for GMO content..... All of Europe, China, Japan and Australia... The backers for the NO vote are big chemical companies.... what does that say? they are not concerned with your grocery bill or small farmers, in fact Monsanto has sued many small farmers....
Dale Smith October 30, 2012 at 07:22 AM
This was a good idea but I voted no. If they had exempted small farms, like those that frequent farmers markets I would have voted yes. We should really just outlaw GMO foods like India and Russia have.
Alaria Sands October 31, 2012 at 04:44 PM
The No # 1 financial backer of Prop 37, Monsanto, also told us their DDT was safe. The Palos Verdes Superfund site is the largest known concentration of DDT in the world according to the government Superfund database, and the government experts who allowed this to happen are now telling the public they should not consume seafood from PV. Notice that it is the public that is now required to foot the bill for the clean-up. DDT is still being found as a toxic body burden in the American public decades after it was banned; it is in mothers breastmilk and is responsible for the near extinction of the American eagle. As with DDT Monsanto and it's paid lackeys are telling us GMO's are perfectly safe. They were also wrong about the safety of their other products: PCB's & Agent Orange. It should be obvious by now that Monsanto has a terrible human and environmental health track record and that we shouldn't be naive enough to believe their untested safty claims. I don't think allowing Monsanto to patent food crops and control the food supply is in the best interest of the American public. They can get a higher price and sell more of their GMO's when they are unlabeled. The invisibility of GMO's acts as an artificial price support for a product with no consumer demand or benefit. All the hype about lawsuits, greedy lawyers, loopholes and increased food costs is highly paid PR spin that is attempting to reframe the discussion. We have a right to know - Yes on 37
kim October 31, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Alaria, I could not have said it better.... yes! on 37 monsanto is funding all the commercials you now see on TV.... using their large checkbook to sway the vote....


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