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

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week 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.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid