With the election looming, there has been a lot of media attention on the presidential race, and on several key Senate races. One election that you may not have heard much about concerns a California ballot initiative that could have a huge impact on your right to know what is in your food. Proposition 37 (The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act) requires clear labels letting consumers know if foods are genetically modified. Prop 37 has been endorsed by many independent groups including the California Nurses Association, the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, and the California Council of Churches.
Because California is such a large market, the impact if this proposition passes would be huge. Most companies would probably choose to label everything they make, rather than have separate labels for products sold in California.
A genetically engineered food is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature. Many processed foods contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but it’s hard to know which ones without labeling.
Are GMO’s safe? No one can honestly say, because little independent research has been conducted. Some of the research that has been done raises serious questions. Just last month, a very credible study came out of Europe. This study, carried out by researchers at Caen University in France, was the first lifetime feeding trial involving rats fed GM corn. It found an increased incidence of breast tumors, liver and kidney damage.
What distinguishes this particular study is that it looked at the impact of eating GM corn over an entire lifetime. Incredibly, this has never been done! Prior studies purporting to establish the safety of GM corn were based on feeding trials lasting only 90 days.
Early surveys showed close to 70% support for the GMO labeling initiative. However, opponents, led by companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical, have amassed a $40 million war chest, and will likely outspend supporters by 10 to 1 in the weeks before the election. Will big money trump this grass roots push for informed choice? We’ll see.
If Prop 37 doesn’t pass, it may give a boost to a growing voluntary “certified non-GMO” labeling movement. The non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization that has developed a program of third-party verification that foods are GMO free. Products that meet their rigorous standards may display the certified non-GMO seal. In the last 2 years, over 6000 products have qualified as certified non-GMO. Non-GMO certified foods are one of the fastest growing categories in grocery and natural food stores.
Other states besides California have GMO labeling initiatives in the works as well. A group in Washington state is close to having the required signatures to put labeling before the voters there next year. It appears that the growing desire by consumers to know whether genetically modified ingredients are in their food means GMO labeling is an issue that won’t go away, not matter what the outcome in California.
• Ottoson owns Rainbow Foods and has a long time interest in food issues.