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

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid