Voters Could Mandate GMO Labeling in California

This November, Californians will head to the polls to potentially make history as the first state to vote in a bill that would mandate labeling of genetically modified foods. California’s Proposition 37 would come at no cost to consumers, but would be a major success for environmentalists and food activists. The bill would also disallow genetically modified food from being labeled as “all-natural,” one of the most deceptive terms in today’s food labels. Nationwide and statewide polls have shown that more than 90 percent of Americans are in favor of labeling GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and that more than 80 percent of Californians would approve the bill.

Modern genetic science has been applied to food in order to produce crops that are resistant to drought, disease, and pesticides and to increase production. The food’s genes are altered and sometimes injected with a pesticide that allows the plant to fight disease on its own or with vitamins such as Vitamin A and beta carotene to enhance the food’s nutrition benefits. These gene alterations have raised concern over whether or not GMOs produce allergens – potentially explaining the recent spike in food allergies – and other health concerns. Common crops subjected to genetic modification include corn, soybeans, and canola.

Because GMOs are bred to become resistant to pesticides, more pesticides and herbicides are needed, resulting in an increased amount of these chemicals that pollute the groundwater and soil and cause harm to the environment. The California campaign for Proposition 37 explains, “Because of the massive use of such products, herbicide-resistant weeds have flourished—a problem that has resulted, in turn, in the use of increasingly toxic herbicides. These toxic herbicides damage our agricultural areas, impair our drinking water, and pose health risks to farm workers and consumers. California consumers should have the choice to avoid purchasing foods production of which can lead to such environmental harm.”

Genetic modification has affected organic farming as well – although regulated organic food is not allowed to contain GMOs, seeds from genetically modified crops in nearby fields can travel and find their way into organic farms, contaminating these crops.

Agricultural giants, such as corn grower Monsanto, have invested millions of dollars to fight this legislation. With little research done on GMOs, these foods remain controversial, but regardless of one’s stance on genetically modified food or whether these foods are safe to eat, consumers deserve transparency and the right to know what we are putting in our bodies. If GMOs are labeled, consumers and scientists will be able to track the long term health effects of eating such foods.

“The giant pesticide and food companies are afraid of the mothers and grandmothers who want the right to know what’s in our food,” said Stacy Malkan of California’s Right to Know initiative. “These companies will try to buy the election, but it won’t work. California moms and dads will prevail over Monsanto and Dupont.”

Fifty countries in Europe, South America, and Asia, as well as Australia and Mexico, already mandate labeling of GMOs. The United States lags behind these countries in terms of food safety laws, and the federal government does not require safety testing for genetically modified food, making it uncertain and unproven that GMOs are safe for human consumption.

Because California is the nation’s largest producer of agriculture and the world’s eighth-largest economy, mandating GMO labeling will have a big impact on the food industry – and environmental groups and food activists believe that the bill has enough public support to pass. If you are a registered voter in California, don’t forget to vote on Election Day to help pass this important law! 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/plant_diversity/7490650534

Just Label It pushes mandatory labeling of genetically modified food

Organizers at Just Label It, a website that campaigns for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, launched a campaign last week to try to get 5,000 new supporters in five days. Their deadline is tomorrow (May 1), and they still have not met their goal, so now they are calling on current subscribers to reach out to friends and family to spread awareness for their cause.

Genetically engineered (GE) food uses biotechnology to alter the genes and traits of nine crops cultivated in the U.S., such as corn and soy, to make them grow larger and become resistant to disease and pesticides so that more herbicides can be used without killing the crops. Genetic engineering combines genes from different species in a way that could not occur in natural breeding, introducing foreign genes into plants and animals. GE foods could produce additional toxins and allergens that have not been seen before in food.

Most livestock raised in the U.S. eats a diet high in GE corn and soy, two of the most common genetically engineered crops used as animal feed. Genetic engineering is now present in salmon, which is the first meat product that the FDA has come close to approving for commercial sale. Though it is not sold in supermarkets, GE salmon could be sold and served soon if it gains FDA approval.

Genetically modified food was approved by the federal government almost 20 years ago and introduced into supermarkets across the country in 1996. The public is still divided about whether these foods are safe to eat, but only one in four Americans strongly believes that genetically engineered foods do not pose a health risk.

Bipartisan public support for GE food labeling is overwhelming: polls show that 92 percent of Americans want GMO food labeled, including 93 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans. Americans believe that they have the right to know what they are feeding themselves and their families; current food labels that reveal ingredients, trans fat content, food allergens, and nutrition facts are already in place, and the American people want the FDA to go a step further in being transparent about where food comes from and what is in it.

While the debate rages on about whether or not genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are harmful to public health, the vast majority of Americans want to make informed choices about what they buy and eat as consumers.

The United States is among five countries that grow 90 percent of the world’s supply of genetically engineered food (others include Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and India — the latter two of which mandate labeling of GMOs). Forty countries worldwide currently mandate GE food labeling, including Australia, countries in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia.

Earlier this month, more than 1 million people submitted public comments to the FDA regarding genetically modified food. The FDA’s response has been tepid, as it has said that it cannot reach a decision on labeling GE food right now. Following the FDA’s lack of commitment and action, Just Label It decided to take their arguments straight to the White House. The organization launched a campaign to get 25,000 petition signatures by mid-May – the number needed in order for the White House to review the petition – and has kept building pressure on the FDA and the White House.

More than 500 organizations have partnered with Just Label It to promote labeling of GMOs. To help Just Label It get 5,000 new subscribers by May 1, sign the petition to the FDA at justlabelit.org and forward their message to your family and friends by clicking this link

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/5532775128