by Maria Deloso, ’15
Proposition 37, which would mandate the labeling of genetically modified (GMO) food, is a topic that I had been avoiding for a while now. Most of the soy, corn, and other foods we eat are genetically modified anyway, so wouldn’t labeling be a waste? I kept on ignoring the topic until I met some YES on 37 volunteers and decided to actually educate myself on the proposition. I found it slightly disturbing that big agri-businesses including Monsanto, Dow Chemicals, Bayer and Coca-Cola have donated over $40 million to shut the proposition down. Those in favor of Proposition 37 include the Environmental Working Group, United Farm Workers, and Sierra Club. If you check out the list of those in favor of Proposition 37, you can find most major environmentally and consumer-focused organizations giving public support to the cause. In contrast, the funding for the TV advertising we’re seeing comes from huge multinational corporations. That $40 million seems to have made a dent in public opinion. At the beginning of the Proposition 37 campaign (which needed 1, 000,000 signatures to get on the ballot), support was 2-1 in favor of passing the law. After these huge corporations used their money to “inform” the public with misleading statistics, polls show that Yes on Prop 37 is now losing. The Yes on 37 campaign barely has money to put on a single advertisement on tv, whereas No on 37 adverts hound me at the TV screens at Arrillaga and the internet. The truth is, labeling matters.
Many students seem to be on the fence about where to vote on this issue, so here’s a summary of the main points.
If Proposition 37 is approved by voters, it will:
- Require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
- Prohibit labeling or advertising such food as “natural.”
- Exempt from this requirement foods that are “certified organic*; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.”
*because certified organic foods are already required to NOT come from GMO seeds.
We should be able to choose who our money supports. Do you trust the companies who told us DDT and Agent Orange were safe to again tell us that we have no right to make decisions on GMOs? The relative safety of GMOs are still up in the air. A peer-reviewed study released in October found that GMOs have lead to an increased pesticide use. Right now, produce and processed foods with ingredients that have been engineered to be resistant to pesticides can be labeled as natural. The only way to avoid GM food is to buy organic, which costs too much for many consumers. It’s true that we don’t have a right to know everything; however, GMOs are something with enough risks that people should be able to make their own choices for themselves.
These companies already have to label their products in 61 other countries. Monsanto, a major donor to the anti-labeling campaign, already labels products in places like England without any problems.
Food prices won’t rise. A nonpartisan government branch found that the cost of labeling in California would only cost up to 3 cents a person to regulate. Companies against labeling tend to skew this statistic by saying that it would cost the state up to $1 million dollars without realizing that there are 37.6 million residents in this sunny state. The study also states that, “In the context of overall court spending, these costs are not likely to be significant in the longer run.” Additionally, Coca-Cola made for European residents costs the same as the genetically modified stuff they sell here. According to David Byrne, the former European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Parliament, when the EU introduced GMO labeling in 1997, “it did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) prediction of some interests.” And what about people’s grocery bills rising by $400? The study was done by a consulting firm known for opposing recycling laws in the soda industry. Some faulty assumptions were made in this report, as the “consultants” assumed that all GMO products would be replaced by organics. Just because we label GMOs doesn’t mean we won’t suddenly stop eating them. However, the consumer should be able to pick whether or not they want to. To compare, a tenured professor at Emory University School of Law found that “Consumers will likely see no increases in prices as a result of the relabeling required.”
Our democracy is at stake. Other states, including Vermont, have tried to label GMOs but were stopped when Monsanto threatened to sue them. This is despite the fact that Vermont’s own House Agriculture Committee voted 9-1 in favor of labeling and 4 separate polls showed 90% of the residents supporting the bill. Corporations should not be able to distort our own elections. Although YES on Prop 37 was winning 2-1 at the beginning of the election, polls now show the proposition as losing after consumers were hit with $45 million in corporate advertisements. Even in California we are seeing some of these biases come out. As a Los Angeles resident, I can’t even depend on my local newspaper to cover stories happening in my area. When the Los Angeles City Council unanimously endorsed the proposition, the Los Angeles Times didn’t even cover the story, instead publishing an article discussing reasons to vote no on 37. Every article on the LA Times website related to proposition 37 is against it, except for a letter to the editor which is followed by another against it. Elections should not be determined by who has the money to buy our votes.
For those of us who are from California, voting on this proposition will make a bigger impact on policy than will voting for the next president. As a blue state, the chances are low that one vote will really change the status quo much. However, Prop 37 matters, because every Californian’s vote counts. Voting YES on 37 would tell Monsanto and the other huge agri-businesses and chemical industries that they just can’t buy their way with the electorate.
And finally, here’s a video with some good sarcasm to top it all.
Maria is a sophomore fascinated by the stuff we put into our mouths three times a day, seven days a week. She is currently the co-founder of Appetite for Change and a member of the Stanford Farm Project. Send her your thoughts/questions/rants at firstname.lastname@example.org.