CA Prop 37: Right to know what’s in your food

On the morning of November 7, we may owe the Golden State a great big “thank you” note. Perhaps the almost one million Californians who signed the petition putting Proposition 37 on California’s ballot on November 6 already deserve one.

Proposition 37 is an initiative to require the labeling of raw or processed foods sold in retail stores in California that contain food products produced through genetic engineering (GMOs). As proponents and food activists across the country point out, Proposition 37 is not an outright ban on the sale of any food. What it is, however, is a straightforward, right-to-know about what’s contained in the food Californians (and we) buy.

Food-activist Californians are hoping to succeed where Connecticut and Vermont have failed.  And the stakes are high.  California’s thirty-eight million people consume twelve percent of all food products in the U.S.  That means where California goes so goes the rest of the nation.

What is the controversy about genetically engineered food?

Genetically engineered food is the end product of a technology-based process that does not occur naturally.  That process inserts genetic material from a variety of sources—such as other plants and animals or viruses or bacteria—which would not have been a natural source for genetic material for that particular plant or meat product.  Often the intention is to render a plant resistant to a particular herbicide or pesticide. Custom-designed genes that don’t exist in nature have been inserted as well. An example is Monsanto’s newest experimental GMO sweet corn from which you and your kids may soon be ingesting, as the Center for Food Safety bluntly describes it, “a toxic pesticide in every bite.”

If you think this is an issue that doesn’t concern you, think again.  If you buy processed food from the supermarket, you’ve been consuming and feeding your families GMOs since the 1990s without knowing it. In fact, GMOs are hidden in such commonly purchased items on supermarket shelves as baby formula, soups, crackers, condiments, cereals, and many processed, boxed foods that contain corn oil, corn syrup, corn starch, soy, canola, cottonseed oil, wheat, or sugar beets.  Some experts in the field estimate that more than seventy-five percent of all processed foods contain GMOs. And the long-term health affects are simply not known.

What you don’t know could be hurting you

The Nation has reported that, in 1999, attorney Steven Druker, while combing through 40,000 pages of FDA files, found “memorandum after memorandum contain[ing] warnings about the unique hazards of genetically engineered food.”  At the time, Druker reported that he found information indicating that GMOs could contain “unexpected toxins, carcinogens or allergens.” More recent FDA documents put the safety of GMOs in question as well, such as this one from FDA scientists that reiterated that GMOs could cause “unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, and nutritional problems.”

Why can’t we know for sure what foods contain GMOs?  The answer is that the FDA and EPA do not require labeling of GMOs nor studies to determine their safety. Proposition 37 seeks to address the labeling requirement on the state level. Support for such labeling outside the ag-biotech world is overwhelming. Polls indicate that 65% of Californians support the measure. Nationally, support for federally required labeling comes in at 91%.

Let’s consider one of the most common food products: corn.  Here, in the Northeast where I live, the beautiful stands of corn are a reminder of an agricultural heritage from the time before America was America.

What you may not know is the degree to which chemical and pharmaceutical companies, including two of the largest, Monsanto and Syngenta, have altered that heritage.  GMO corn has been altered to resist weed killers and even to produce herbicides within the plant’s own tissues.

Coming soon to a Walmart near you

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