California’s Proposition 37
On November 6, California voters will have the opportunity to decide whether genetically engineered foods should bear identifying labels.
Proposition 37, also known as “The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” would require all foods made from plants or animals, whose genetic material has been artificially altered, to list those ingredients on the food’s packaging. Polls indicate that approximately 65 percent of California voters are in favor of Proposition 37.
Monsanto and Proposition 37
One company that is decidedly not in favor of Proposition 37 is the biotechnology multinational Monsanto, which has contributed over four million dollars to help defeat the proposed legislation. Monsanto is a leading producer of agricultural seed products that have been genetically modified for pesticide resistance. Other Monsanto bestselling products include the popular pesticide Roundup (glyphosate) and bovine growth hormone.
If passed, Monsanto argues, Proposition 37 would undermine confidence in labeling laws since few consumers actually understand what GMO (genetically modified organisms) means. GMO foods have been on the market for over two decades, says company spokespersons. There hasn’t been a single incident of an adverse reaction to GM foods during that time.
Monsanto’s GMO About-Face
Monsanto’s stance against Proposition 37 represents a significant about-face for the agribusiness giant. In the late 1990s, Montsanto ran a series of ads in the UK, touting the benefits of full GMO disclosure.
The European Union began mandating the labeling of genetically altered foods in 1997. Specific rules covering corn and soybeans were introduced a year later. That same year, Monsanto ran a series of ads in support of UK manufacturers of GMO products and retailers that carried those products. Monsanto believed that consumers should be aware of all the facts before they made their food purchases, the ads said.
Monsanto has refused to address the question of why they supported labeling in the UK 14 years ago, but are fighting it now in California.
Genetics and Food
Since James Watson and Francis Crick first discovered the molecular structure of DNA in 1953, genetic engineering has penetrated into practically every aspect of human life. In the US and UK DNA testing is part of almost every crime scene investigation. When blood is sent to the laboratory for DNA paternity testing, chances are those tests will make use of genetically modified bacteria.
No where has the impact of genetic engineering been felt more keenly than in agriculture. Many scientists see genetically modified food products as a means of reducing dependence on environmentally toxic pesticides and fertilizers. They also see genetically modified food as a way of decreasing malnutrition through the addition of essential nutrients like Vitamin A or Vitamin D. Genetic engineering may even be able to end hunger altogether by creating GMO products whose requirements are not as resource-intensive. China, for example, only has seven percent of the world’s arable land, yet it must feed 23 percent of the world’s population. Agricultural scientists predict that in 20 years time, over half of China’s crops will be genetically engineered in some fashion.
Proposition 37 backers maintain that whether you’re for or against GMO products, consumers have the right to know what’s in their food. Proposition 37 critics point out that if this is the case, the proposed legislation doesn’t go very far since milk, restaurant meals and many other products are exempted. One thing’s for sure. On November 6, Proposition 37 ballots will be monitored almost as closely as the Presidential results.