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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ebola Lockdown May Be Extended

Lockdown, which started Friday, aims to allow health workers to locate hidden Ebola patients, educate others on how to avoid the deadly disease More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid