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California’s Prop 37 Vote to Influence Nationwide Food Labeling

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When you choose what to feed your family, do you look beyond marketing claims on the front of a box? Right now, even if you scan for a detailed ingredients list, you may be getting only part of the story.  Whether or not you have the right to know if your food was made with transgenic or genetically modified organisms may be decided in November by California voters.  Because California’s economy is so large, rules that businesses must follow there often become standards for the rest of the United States. Surveys show consumers overwhelmingly want to know if they’re buying GMO foods, a right that consumers in many other countries around the world already have.

Genetically modified corn and soybeans have apparently been used in our processed food products for several years.  GMO versions of other fruits and vegetables are more widely available than ever. California’s Proposition 37 requires a label to identify those GMO ingredients so consumers can make informed choices.

“We’re confident that Proposition 37 has an excellent chance to pass,” said spokesperson Stacy Malkan for the Yes on 37 California Right to Know group leading the labeling initiative, “While the issues involving GMOs can be complicated, Proposition 37 is very simple:  it’s about our right to know what’s in our food.  It’s a simple label, similar to the labels already required in 50 other countries.  A yes vote for Proposition 37 is a vote for putting the power back into the hands of consumers to decide for ourselves what to eat and feed our families.”

Among those opposed to the initiative so far is global chemical and biotech industry leader Monsanto, with a publicly filed 4.2 million-dollar donation to the “No on 37 Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.”  A Monsanto spokesperson told the measure is “costly” and “extreme,” referring to a detailed rebuttal of Right to Know claims at the website with extensive q and a information from the industry’s perspective.  The No on 37 website says the measure could increase food costs, while having loopholes like exempting food served in restaurants. Like Yes on 37 supporters, the No on 37 coalition also claims to have farmers on its side.Many conventional farmers today see biotech tools like Monsanto’s GMO seeds as necessary for financial survival.

Other farmers, especially those in the growing organic sector, see those same laboratory-produced tools as a threat to traditional food production and biodiversity. The Organic Consumers Association has long held the notion that GMO foods have not been entirely proven safe. It seeks to educate consumers that certified Organic food labels are currently the only ones that assure a food is GMO-free, while many so-called “natural” products may contain GMOs.The nationwide Just Label It campaign has been educating consumers, appealing to the Food and Drug Administration and publicly supporting California’s Proposition 37; yet some of its many partners have recently been called out by the OCA as financing the No on 37 campaign.

I asked both organizations why it’s been so unclear who is for and against labeling GMOs in California.  OCA’s Kaare Melby answered, “Many large corporations in the food industry have small subdivisions that produce products that are certified organic.  These subdivisions profit from their organic status, which provides more profits to their parent companies.  In turn, many of those parent companies have donated to the campaign fighting against Prop 37.  As an association looking out for consumers of organic products, we feel it is our duty to inform consumers when the money they spend on products is being used to fight against the interests of the organic community.” Here’s what the Just Label It campaign’s Sue McGovern had to say about confusion over which partners are for and against Prop 37. “Just Label It is a national coalition of nearly 600 organizations that stand united behind the need to label GE foods in the US.  Our partner organizations represent a diverse array of people in fishing, farming, health care, business, the environmental community, parents, consumer advocacy, religious organizations, and many other groups. While these diverse partners may have different views on many issues, they all joined JLI because they are pro-labeling and believe Americans have the right to know what is in the foods we eat and feed our families.  We hope consumers throughout the US are encouraged by survey findings that show the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right to know, and want GE foods to be labeled.  Now celebrating its one year anniversary, Just Label It is especially grateful to the partners who helped fund Just Label It.  They are listed here:”

One of the voices listed as a Just Label It partner is not one you’d necessarily expect to see at the table in this major food debate.  Blessed Earth is a faith-based group promoting creation care as a mandate from God. Managing Director Nancy Sleeth answered when I asked if Blessed Earth supports California’s Prop 37 to require labeling of GMO foods, “As an organization we try to stay away from politics.  What we strongly advocate is greater education about the need to care for all of creation. This initiative would help inform people about the source of their food, and we definitely support that.”


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