If California voters pass Proposition 37 on November 6, the golden state will become the first in the U.S. to require food companies to label food and drinks containing ingredients that come from genetically modified plants.
The new law would slap a “Genetically Engineered” label on modified raw foods and on thousands of products on U.S. grocery store shelves now – from corn flakes to soups, chips and even tofu
Most Americans don’t realize that at least 70 percent of processed foods they’re eating right now are made from corn, soybeans, potatoes, rice, sugar beets, canola and cotton oil which has DNA modified by scientists.
The U.S. is one of the only Western nations that doesn’t inform consumers of this, while in Europe and 50 other countries including Japan, India and China, consumers have the right to know when they’re eating foods containing genetically modified ingredients.
The powerful ag-industry led by seed giant Monsanto and PepsiCo has raised $34.5 million and is spending it on a public relations blitz to try to sway voters against the initiative.
What are they afraid of? Lost sales. “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it, ” said Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto.
They unleashed a string of ads showing salt-of-the-Earth farmers backed by weathered barns warning of dire consequences. No on 37 ads contend that labeling would force common food products to be repackaged and lead to “shake-down” lawsuits against farmers, grocers and food companies – causing higher costs for consumers.
Most of the large U.S. chemical and food manufacturers have donated to the No on 37 campaign. That includes Dow, BASF, DuPont, Cargill, Kellogg, ConAgra, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Hormel, Syngenta and Bayer among others.
The Yes on 37 side is funded mostly by the Organic Consumers Fund, and Swanton Berry Farm, Lundberg Family Farms, Straus Family Creamery, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Nature’s Path, and Organic Valley.
“The world’s largest pesticide companies are spending $1 million a day to confuse California voters about Proposition 37,” said Stacy Malkan of CA Right to Know. Org.
“Adding a few words to labels costs nothing. Labeling didn’t raise costs in 50 other countries and won’t raise costs here.”
So far the proponents of 37 are still ahead but Monsanto’s the high volume, high emotion ads are having an effect. Recent polls show that 77 percent of California voters support labeling, but 48 percent of that group said they would vote against it if it increased food prices.
Lost in the noise however, is the debate about GMO safety. Although the industry insists that genetically engineered foods are safe, many scientists believe that the potential risks have not been fully studied. The Food and Drug Administration has no safety testing requirements for GMOs and since 1992 has declared them to be essentially equivalent to non-GMO foods.
Consumer watchdog groups believe that because GMOs have only been in the food supply since 1996, safety testing hasn’t been long-term enough or in-depth enough to detect subtle negative health effects.
The consumer advocate group Food & Water Watch released a report suggesting that the biotech industry further obstructs safety research by using its patents to block independent scientists from cultivating GM seeds for research purposes.
It also lists several studies that found “troubling health indications.” One 2009 study found that rats fed GE corn for 90 days showed deterioration of liver and kidney functioning.
Although the Yes on 37 group has only raised $4 million, they have also released a 30-second TV ad. It makes the point that despite a new identity as a seed company, Monsanto has had a scandalous past when it comes to safety concerns.
Monsanto was responsible for polluting whole sections of the Eastern riverbeds with PCBs and with distributing both DDT and Agent Orange. Both Monsanto and Dow once told consumers that the now-banned chemical, DDT was safe to spray on American neighborhoods and that Agent Orange was not a cause for concern for Vietnam troops.
“The companies that told us Agent Orange and DDT are safe are lying again and trying to buy this election by putting the full weight of their propaganda wizardry behind a campaign to confuse and deceive voters,” said Yes on 37 campaign manager Gary Ruskin.