AirTalk for September 20, 2012

POLL: Do Californians have a right to know if food has been genetically engineered?

"MON 810", a variety of GMO corn

ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images

"MON 810", a variety of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by Monsanto Company.

We’ve put “plastic or paper” to rest, but that doesn’t mean our choices at the grocery store are getting any simpler. We may soon have to decide between genetically engineered food or not. That’s if voters approve Proposition 37, or the “California right to know genetically engineered food act,” in November.

Prop. 37 would require companies that produce genetically modified food products to label them as such in California.

Those in favor of the measure point to the fact that other countries around the world have mandatory label requirements for genetically modified food products.

"This type of labeling is already in place in 50 other countries, and what we're seeing here in California is a huge people's movement for the right to know what's in our food. This is just a basic human right," said Stacey Malkan, spokesperson for the Yes on 37 campaign.

She added that we’re entitled to know if and how our food is genetically engineered, because of the potential risks such foods have to our health (actual health effects have not been officially determined).

"This corn has been on the food supply in the United States for 20 years, and it's in many of the foods on supermarket shelves. It's in corn chips, and kid's cereal, and all sorts of foods," Malkan continued. "There's obviously a need for rigorous independent research for these foods that hasn't happened."

Detractors of the statute claim it’s a divisive food labeling proposal designed to waste taxpayer dollars, and that it will inspire frivolous lawsuits and increase food costs by the billions.

Greg Palla, a farmer from Kern County and spokesperson for the No on 37 campaign, said like others, he doesn't want his loved ones ingesting unsafe food. But according to Palla, the initiative is more complicated than slapping a label on a product.

"I don't think anyone is opposed to consumers knowing as much as they can about the food they eat," he said. "But the fact of the matter is this particular initiative is so poorly crafted and so underhanded in a number of ways that they've gone about trying to get the voters unsuspectingly pass a measure based on a simple approach of wanting to know more about food."

He said hidden aspects include completely exempting whole classes of food products, such as alcohol, and the potential for nuisance lawsuits that could cost people working in the industry time and money.

Food giants opposed to the measure, such as Pepsi, Nestle and Campbell's Soup, along with bioengineering companies like Monsanto and DuPont, have raised over $32 million in total campaign cash, almost 10 times the amount raised by its supporters. Interestingly, big names in the organic aisle, such as Kashi and Horizon Organic, have also joined the anti-labeling effort.

Prop Breakdown


Official Title: Proposition 37, a Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative

  • Require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.

  • Prohibit labeling or advertising such food as "natural."

  • Exempt from this requirement foods that are "certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages."
  • Answer our poll and post your opinions in the comments!:

    Weigh In:


    Why is so much money being spent to defeat this measure? And if it doesn’t pass, is it only a matter of time before labeling becomes a federal mandate? Do you worry about the health effects of genetically engineered foods?

    Guests:

    Stacy Malkan, spokesperson for the Yes on 37 campaign

    Greg Palla, farmer from Kern County and spokesperson for the No on 37 campaign


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