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The Importance Of California's Prop. 37

Chloe Roddy |
November 5, 2012 | 5:25 p.m. PST


GMO labeling would allow consumers to know what they are eating. (jamesjustin, Creative Commons)
GMO labeling would allow consumers to know what they are eating. (jamesjustin, Creative Commons)
“If we are what we eat, then consumers must know what they are eating."

These were the plain words of Representative Dennis Kucinich, uttered way back in 1999. The topic of genetically modified foods had been brought up for the first time in Congress, with the introduction of a bill authored by Kucinich (D) and Jack Metcalf (R) that would have required labeling for all domestic food with at least 0.1 percent of bioengineered material. Not surprisingly, the bill failed spectacularly, but it marked the beginning of a trend of increased awareness for this highly controversial issue.

Fast forward to 2007, when a young presidential hopeful by the name of Barack Obama promised that if given the chance, he would “let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have a right to know what they’re buying.” People who were questioning the safety of genetically modified foods were both delighted and awestruck by the potential of the then-candidate’s words.

To their detriment, this turned out to be a premature, even false celebration. The Obama Administration has thus far in his presidency declined to follow through with his words, leaving skeptics of GMO safety to wonder when, exactly, their simple request to label these foods in markets would be met. Enter California’s Proposition 37 – a ballot initiative that does just that.

Prop. 37 is the first legitimate chance for American consumers to know what they are buying. While not perfect, and slammed by anti-37 forces as “arbitrary” and “deceptive,” the proposition accomplishes its main purpose: it requires labeling if certain plant or animal products have been genetically modified, and prohibits labeling genetically engineered foods as “natural.”

However, as we approach the final hours before the election, it looks increasingly unlikely that Prop. 37 will pass. A barrage of "No on 37" advertisements have caused popular support for the initiative to plummet (amusingly, Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for the No on 37 campaign, attributes the slimmer margins to “voters reading up on the initiative”).

It’s important to realize that this isn’t the full story. "No on 37"’s war chest has reached an incredible sum of $45 million plus, with major contributions from Monsanto – yes, that would be the same Monsanto that brought us Agent Orange and PCBs, and attempted to cover up the adverse effects of rBGH for cow and human health – and other multinationals such as Dupont and PepsiCo.

Monsanto has spent over $8 million to oppose Prop. 37. While the corporation’s lengthy history of deceit doesn’t in and of itself prove any wrongdoing in this case, it raises legitimate concerns about whose interests it and the others have in mind, what they could be hiding and, most importantly, whose agenda the "No on 37" campaign truly serves.

As Californian voters make their final decisions Tuesday, they need keep this in mind. Regardless of whether or not genetically engineered foods cause ill effects on human health, the chance that they do warrants our ability to know precisely what we are buying.

If Prop. 37 isn’t passed Tuesday, it will be a demoralizing defeat for those in favor of labeling genetically modified food products. After nearly 15 years of work with hardly anything accomplished, it’ll be a tough loss to swallow, especially given California’s role as an indelible source of nationwide policy. However, it’ll be far from a shocking result.

Quite simply, it will acknowledge the comparative lack of resources with which the pro-labeling movement has to work. And most importantly, it will cause an artificial 50-foot growth spurt in Goliath, further entrenching the position of food giants in determining food policy, and making it even more difficult for David to achieve even a small victory.


Reach Contributor Chloe Roddy here.



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