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Fight Continues For Health Conscious Legislation in California, Nation

Jillian Olivas |
November 12, 2012 | 1:20 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Proponents of Prop 37 will continue the fight for labeling of genetically engineered foods.(Creative Commons/ cheeseslave)
Proponents of Prop 37 will continue the fight for labeling of genetically engineered foods.(Creative Commons/ cheeseslave)
Last week's election featured many important decisions for California voters, including initiatives regarding the basic foods they eat. Despite being voted down at the ballot box, proponents of health-conscious legislation and practices in California plan to continue their fights at the national level.

One proposition that did not pass was Proposition 37, which was a measure that would have made California the first state in the nation to require labeling of some foods that contained genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The vote tally was 47 percent in favor to 53 percent opposed as of Nov. 11 with all precincts at least partially reporting, according to Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office. The proposition seemed to do well along the coast,  with several counties including Los Angeles County supporting it, while the agriculturally- dominated inland counties voted against it.

"California’s Proposition 37 may have been defeated at the ballot box but it was a win for people who care about labeling their food," said Sue McGovern, a spokesperson for Just Label It, a coalition of 600 diverse organizations that focuses on labeling genetically engineered foods.

But despite the proposition's defeat, supporters plan to continue their efforts, focusing on affecting change at the national level.

“Prop 37 placed the issue of GE food labeling front and center, and took critical steps forward in heightening the discussion, and raising the profile, to make labeling and transparency around our food a reality for the nation," Just Label It chairman Gary Hirshberg said in a press release dated Nov. 7.

Just Label It is also calling on elected officials to support genetically engineered food labeling. The upcoming lame duck session of Congress may feature discussion of farm bills in which chemical industry lobbyists are attempting to insert language into the bills that would limit potential labeling of certain GE foods.

Also at the national level, President Barack Obama's re-election means that First Lady Michelle Obama will continue her promotion of healthy and active lifestyles in American children. Her initiative, Let's Move, puts healthier food in schools and encourages physical activity so that American children can achieve their dreams.

Let's Move Los Angeles, the local initiative to reduce childhood obesity and promote healthy lifestyle choices, is responding to the First Lady's challenge by incorporating healthier school lunch options at some schools and encouraging increased physical activity.

While the First Lady champions her passion of healthy food and drink options, voters in two California cities did not want the government legislating their choices.

Another health-conscious piece of legislation involving a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks was voted down in the cities of El Monte and Richmond.

Residents in El Monte overwhelmingly opposed Measure H, with 78 percent voting against the tax. Voters in Richmond also opposed the measure, called Measure N, with 70 percent casting a vote against it.

However, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman focused on the 22 and 30 percent of voters that supported the measures, saying that the defeat of Measures H and N do not represent failures. Instead, they suggest a growing concern among consumers of the foods they ingest and a likelihood that some form of legislation is likely to increase awareness among Californians and their consumption.

"Ten or 20 years after that happens we are going to say, 'Oh we fought that change, but now we are living with it and life is indeed better,'" Bittman said.

Reach staff reporter Jillian Olivas here.



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