MoreFollow the Money: Interactive database lets you look at who's funding both sides of the Genetically Engineered Food Labeling prop
Read: Latest news and stories on Prop 37
Read the Full Text: Read the proposed law as published in the state's Voter Information Guide
Video: Prop 37: Fact and Feeling Fuel the Fight Over GMOs
As consumers, we already eat (and have been eating for decades) genetically engineered crops such as corn and soy, as well as the products made from them. We just don't know when we're doing it. Prop 37 aims to change that by requiring a label on these products (you'll alternately hear them referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMO's). Prop 37 would take the added step of prohibiting such products from being labeled "natural."
The text of the proposed law does include several exemptions, including foods that are certified organic, contain only small amounts of genetically engineered material, or are sold for immediate consumption (as in, at a restaurant). These exemptions are the source of complaints that Prop 37 serves certain special interests.
While the measure itself only addresses whether or not to label, a key point of contention between supporters and opponents is whether genetically engineered foods are safe for human consumption. For now, there does not appear to be a scientific consensus on the matter, though the World Health Organization claims that no effects on human health have been reported in any country where they are consumed. The WHO has a helpful fact sheet explaining what a genetically engineered food is and outlining the debate.
What Your Vote Means:
Voting YES would mean that genetically engineered foods and food products have to be labeled in California.
Voting NO would mean no change to existing law. No labeling would be required.
Who & What It Affects
Consumers: Consumers are currently armed with information about the foods on the shelf at the grocery store, including the nutritional content and whether a product is certified organic. Prop 37 would give them one more layer of information. Opponents of the measure claim, however, that such knowledge will come with a cost, as food producers raise their prices to compensate for labeling or using more expensive non-GM ingredients.
Food Producers: Some farmers and food producers will be required to print new labels. They may also have to decide whether to make big changes in how they grow or produce their food in order to avoid getting slapped with the label.
According to the legislative analyst's office, the cost to the state of administering a labeling program could be as much as $1 million a year. That's because the Department of Public Health would have to monitor food producers to determine whether they are complying. The LAO also predicts an unknown but "potentially significant" cost for the courts, the Attorney General, and district attorneys to handle lawsuits arising from violations.
Who's Behind It?
According to the committees backing it, Prop 37 got its start when Pamm Larry, a "grandmother from Chico," woke up and decided it was her duty to lead the grassroots effort to make labeling of genetically modified foods a reality. Since then, a swarm of individual small donors have joined the cause, enough to attract the attention and support of big-money backers like Dr. Joseph Mercola, who runs a popular alternative health website. Other major donors include:
- Organic Consumers Fund
- Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps
- Nature's Path Foods
- Lundberg Family Farms
- See the fully updated list here
Who's Against It?
Among those lined up to oppose Prop 37 are major farming associations, food and beverage companies, a litany of chambers of commerce and other business groups, and biotech organizations. The list of big money donors to the anti-37 camp includes:
- Council for Biotechnology Information
- Grocery Manufacturers Association
- Kraft Foods
- Kellogg Company
- See the fully updated list here
Arguments Being Made For:
Labeling will allow you to know which foods have genetically engineered material so you can decide for yourself whether to eat them.
Having such information can help you protect yourself and your family -- some physicians and scientists say such foods have been linked to allergies and other health risks.
More than 40 other nations currently require such labeling, including "most of Europe, Japan, and even China and India."
It will cost nothing to include this information on a label -- manufacturers will have time to phase in new labels or decide to change their products so they can avoid the labeling requirement.
It will prevent misleading use of the word "natural" on genetically engineered foods.
Arguments Being Made Against:
It will add more government bureaucracy and increase taxpayer costs because of the need to monitor "tens of thousands of food labels."
It will lead to more lawsuits and create "a new class of 'headhunter lawsuits' allowing lawyers to sue family farmers and grocers without any proof of harm."
It will increase food costs by billions as farmers and food companies are forced to implement "costly new operations" or switch to the more expensive, non-genetically engineered foods. That cost will be passed to consumers.
It is full of special-interest exemptions. Exemptions include milk and dairy products, alcohol, and meat.
Scientific and medical organizations have concluded biotech (GMO) foods are safe. Organizations include the National Academy of Sciences, American Council on Science and Health, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the World Health Organization.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article noted, incorrectly, that genetically engineered wheat has been available for public consumption for decades. In fact, it is not being grown commercially anywhere in the United States.
Top Photo: Scientists from the John Innes Centre, UK have genetically engineered tomatoes to contain very high levels of the cancer-fighting antioxident 'anthocyanins', which as a result have turned the usually red fruit into a deep purple. | Credit: John Innes Centre UK via Getty Images