AirTalk for May 3, 2012

Could genetically engineered foods soon come with a label?

Transgenic soy plants are seen in a fiel

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Genetically modified soy plants.

If proponents of natural and organic foods get their way come November, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will require labels in California.

The California Right to Know campaign, which has taken up this fight, amassed 971,126 signatures for their cause, nearly double the minimum for ballot qualification. This will be the first initiative in California regarding labeling, so natural food advocates and volunteers who worked on the campaign have quite a reason to celebrate.

Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman with the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, agrees that polling shows voters overwhelmingly want to know if their food contains GMOs.

"It's much more complicated than a simple 'right-to-know' measure," she said. "And as people look into the details – who is behind it, how it will increase food prices in California – we think that they will come to oppose it in November."

Fairbanks said that the labeling measure will enable lawyers to take advantage of small businesses.

"The labeling measure was written by a trial lawyer who spent a career suing small businesses and generating fees for his law firm. He drafted this measure to create a new cause of action so that lawyers can go out and sue for alleged labeling violation," she continued. "They don't even have to show proof, they don't have to show damages, but they can file a lawsuit against small family farmers, food processors, food manufactures and grocery stores and markets, which will increase food prices for Californians across the board."

Stacy Malkan, media director of the California Right to Know Campaign, said there's no proof to support that food prices will see a major increase.

"This is just sort of standard procedure. There are huge corporate interests that do not want transparency in our food systems. They don't want accurate labeling. They want to convince everyone that labeling is confusing, is scary, is weird, but it's just not credible. There's no evidence whatsoever that costs would be driven up. We're talking about adding a little bit of ink to a label," she said.

She added that there's no reason to believe companies wouldn't comply with the law.

"It simply requires adding a line to the ingredient deck that the product contains genetically engineered ingredients, just like companies label calories. You don't see them leaving off or fudging on the calorie content because they think consumers don’t like it," she went on to say.

One of the main reasons so many signatures were compiled could be the fact that labeling of genetically engineered foods is a popular idea across the political spectrum. In fact, a 2012 Mellman Group poll found 9 in 10 American voters were in favor of it. If the initiative were to pass in November, California would join 40 countries which already have instituted the practice.


WEIGH IN:

Do you think these foods should be labeled in California? What difference does it make? If the initiative passes in California, could that set a precedent for the rest of the country? How hard are companies which produce GMOs fighting this?

Guests:

Stacy Malkan, Media Director, California Right to Know Campaign – lead proponent of this ballot initiative; long-time advocate in the area of environmental health & chemical pollutants

Kathy Fairbanks, Spokeswoman with the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition


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