In November, we will be voting on proposition 37, which would require the labeling of any products which contain GMOs. It would also not allow any products containing GE (genetically engineered) ingredients to be labelled as “Natural”. (Some background information and my opinions on GMOs can be found in an earlier post here: https://eat-for-the-earth.com/2012/04/07/gmos-29/.) The proposition is important because California is a very populous, powerful state. A law passed in California has a very strong chance of being passed in other states and nationally.
When I heard about this proposition I supported it immediately and wholly. I was wondering what a possible counter-argument could be. The proposition supports the simple idea that we have a right to know what is in our foods. Though it would be nice if it were that easy, the issue is of course more complicated. Those who oppose the proposition (companies like Monsanto and General Mills) have many points. They point out that the companies would have to spend a lot of money to repackage their products. However, many companies whose products can be found in the U.S. also sell to some of the 40 countries which require labeling for GMOs. Kellogg’s came up with a brand new package for the Olympics but they don’t want to do the same thing so the public can know what is in their product?
It is also said that the GMO label would possibly scare many people away, especially those who don’t know much about GMOs, and cause a massive drop in sales for companies whose products contain GMOs. Nothing could be worse than the public being afraid of the food in our stores without knowing about it. At the same time, maybe this will inspire the public to learn more about GMOs and what is in their food. They would be able to make more educated choices, even if it means supporting a company whose products contain GE ingredients. Products without GMOs would most likely continue to do okay. They would be required to start keeping records if their products are not labelled as Non-GMO or Organic. (Organic standards prohibit genetic engineering.) This could be initially costly. Even if many companies collapse, which I doubt will be the case, it may be beneficial in the long run, the kind of start we need to major change.
Another criticism is that the proposition includes many seemingly random exceptions to the labeling requirement, such as food sold in restaurants or meats: http://noprop37.com/uploads/1343839588-NoonProp37ArbitraryExemptions.pdf. Foreign food companies must only state that their food is “GE Free” to avoid putting the new label on but American companies and farmers must start to keep records to guarantee their products contain less than .5% GE ingredients by weight, starting 2014. Were the proposition to pass, this would be the strictest tolerance standard of any country. After 2019, the standard would go down to 0%. This scares me because it could mean the demise of many good-hearted companies that happen to have products contaminated by GMOs, which are so ubiquitous nowadays.
The proposition would bring a lot of change to grocery stores, food companies, what the public sees and knows about their food. There are some inconsistencies and I would no doubt change a few things were I to have written the proposition. For example, products from animals injected or fed with genetically engineered ingredients would not require the GMO label. But considering the proposition as a whole, I say yes, somewhat tentatively, until I have a chance to give it more thought. It seems to me the long run benefits would outweigh the initial troubles.
Here are my sources. I encourage you to learn more than I’ve said here.