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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Hoang-Lien Pham October 22, 2012 at 05:02 AM
The no on Proposition 37 arguments are backed up by Monsanto and its allies. These companies are the ones who put small farmers out of business. The claims in their ads are unfounded, there are no studies to back them up http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_26457.cfm. These companies even control research on GMO crop http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research GMO labeling is long overdue in this country. We want to know what's in our food so we could protect ourselves and our children!
Hoang-Lien Pham October 22, 2012 at 05:05 AM
For those who are still undecided or thinking of voting no i recommend they watch this movie www.geneticroulettemovie.com
Corky Jackson November 03, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Proposition 37 offers no economic incentives for lawyers to sue. The only new enforcement provision added by Prop. 37 allows a consumer to sue only for an order to force required labeling to take place – not to recover any money at all. Consumers cannot file a class action without first giving notice, and if the defendant fixes the labels, then no class action is permitted. Any penalties from a violation go only to the state, not the plaintiff or lawyer.
Nadja Adolf November 03, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Proposition 37 has absolutely NO scientific evidence to support it. Despite the claims of damage from GMO foods, none have *ever* been demonstrated by legitimate scientific researchers. Note that the special interests have already carved out exemptions for themselves.
Jill Pyeatt November 06, 2012 at 04:43 AM
I strongly urge everyone to research GMOs before you decide to vote "No". I did--and I'll definitely be voting "yes" on this proposition.


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