News / USA

California to Vote on Labeling Genetically Modified Foods

About 80 percent of the packaged foods on American supermarket shelves contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. credit: VOA/S. Baragona
About 80 percent of the packaged foods on American supermarket shelves contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. credit: VOA/S. Baragona
As Republicans and Democrats battle for votes this November, another fight is brewing in the western U.S. state of California. Voters there will decide if foods made with genetically modified ingredients must carry a special label.

Backers say people have a right to know what they are eating. But opponents say labels would be costly, confusing and unnecessary.

GMO foods widespread

Walk into any American supermarket today and you are surrounded by genetically modified foods. Corn sugar, soy protein, cottonseed oil - you’ll find these and other ingredients in about 80 percent of the packaged foods on the shelves, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group.

And nearly all the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States are genetically modified varieties designed to better resist insect pests or chemical weed killers.

They have been on the market for more than 15 years. The nation’s largest physicians’ group, the American Medical Association, notes that there have been no negative health effects reported.

But Chico, California, resident Pamm Larry does not trust them.

“People used to think that smoking wasn’t addictive," she says. "My understanding is, there’s a lot of stuff like that.”

Larry says years from now, researchers could find health problems from eating genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Special labels

“So, I just think in the meantime, people have a right to know what they’re buying and eating," she says. "That’s it.”
A product labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Angeles. Californians are considering Proposition 37, which would require labeling on all food made with altered genetic material.A product labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Angeles. Californians are considering Proposition 37, which would require labeling on all food made with altered genetic material.
x
A product labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Angeles. Californians are considering Proposition 37, which would require labeling on all food made with altered genetic material.
A product labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Angeles. Californians are considering Proposition 37, which would require labeling on all food made with altered genetic material.

Polls show 90 percent of Americans agree.

So Larry has been a leader in getting Proposition 37 on California’s ballot. It would require foods to carry a special label if they contain ingredients from GMOs.

Many European countries, Japan, and dozens of others already require labels.

But opponents say special labels for GMO ingredients would send the wrong message.

"It would be seen by California consumers as a warning that something was unsafe, when the science simply doesn't back that up," says "No on 37" campaign spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks.

Seed and pesticide makers Monsanto and Dupont, as well as food and soft drink makers PepsiCo and General Mills, are some of the top donors to the “No on 37” campaign.

Science vs. emotion

Top scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have concluded that GMOs are as safe as other foods.

The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest physicians’ organization, concluded this June that, "there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods."

But for years the GMO debate has taken place in an emotionally charged atmosphere.

In the 1990s, European protesters targeted supermarkets with GMO-containing products on the shelves.

“They’d parade up and down outside the supermarkets dressed as death and all these sort of things," says Mella Frewen, director-general of the industry trade group FoodDrinkEurope. "So the supermarkets had no choice, really, but to take them off the shelves.”

Frewen says European food makers now avoid GMOs whenever possible.

A few products still contain them, and carry labels.

Separate supply chains

Frewen says labeling splits the market between those who seek to avoid GMOs and those who don't. And that means taking extra steps to ensure one entire supply chain is GMO-free.

That would complicate matters for California farmers like Greg Palla.

“We grow a variety of different types of crops. Some are genetically engineered, some are not," he says. "And when we go to harvest or plant or handle the crop at all, we don’t have separate equipment for each type of crop.”

Palla says having separate GMO-free equipment throughout the supply chain would raise the cost of food. The “No on 37” campaign says it would add up to about $400 per year for each California consumer.

Adverse impact

Opponents also worry mandatory GMO labeling could trigger lawsuits, affecting everyone from the farmer to the corner grocer.

“Even those who are following the law, doing everything right, still can get sued, leading to a situation where proving their innocence is going to be very expensive,” says the "No" campaign's Kathy Fairbanks.

“Yes on 37” spokeswoman Stacy Malkan disputes that claim.

"There are protections for businesses," she says. “There are no incentives for lawyers to sue."

Future of food

"There's a lot of scare stories going around funded by the world’s largest pesticide and food companies that don’t want to have to label for genetic engineering," Malkan adds.

But Fairbanks replies that the "Yes" campaign has more on its mind than labels.

While GMO proponents believe the technology is an important tool for meeting the world’s growing demand for food, Fairbanks notes the campaign’s top donor, the Organic Consumers Association, has said labeling would be "the kiss of death” for iconic brands in California and would be one step toward eliminating GMOs nationwide.

This November's vote is shaping up to be about more than consumers’ right to know. It may be about the future of food.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: armynod from: Santa Clara Ca
November 07, 2012 11:11 AM
Prop 37 was flawed and ill-conceived. Not many people read ingredient labels. Instead of changing labeling, we should just require an area of the store to be dedicated for GMO products. It would be simpler and easier to implement.
In Response

by: fredd
November 09, 2012 3:17 PM
It's not like they were going to put a skull and crossbones or three red X's to label the food. I'm glad it didn't pass. Hopefully more people will eat GMO foods and we will see a thinning of the heard in then years to come with new cancers derived from the GMO foods.
It will work itself out and get rid of the dumb and weak. Educated people read labels and understand what they are eating.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs