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