California Proposition 37: Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food

King but not King-Size
Many know of the Biblical story of the battle between David and his opponent, Goliath in what was known as the Valley of Elah. David’s seamless victory over the towering Philistine left many onlookers speechless yet defiant that the impossible was, in fact, possible. Fast forward to California in the present day where Proposition 37, a referendum to mandate food labeling, is up for debate and will be on the ballot this November. In this version, David represents the group of farmers who support Prop 37, while Goliath is the Monsanto Company, and the other conglomerates, and the battle is taking place not in the Valley of Elah, but in California’s very own Central Valley.

The support for food labeling is gaining ground and momentum. Many prospective voters hope it can prevail against large corporations opposing the referendum intent on its downfall. With remarkable donations from corporate giants such as Monsanto, DuPont, and The Coca Cola Company, the opposition has “rounded up” nearly $40 million, compared to around $5 million donated in favor of Prop 37, mainly by organic food companies and farmers. Why is Monsanto, “NO on Prop-37’s” major contributor, trying so hard and spending so much to stifle the competition?

Fields of Gold
Monsanto Company is an agricultural biotech corporation that currently holds a patent on its so-called “Terminator Seeds” that are genetically modified sterile seeds that are capable to produce an herbicide. Sterile seeds will produce one crop harvest after which they have no further value and in turn, more seeds would need to be bought for every future harvest. Monsanto’s approach and influence on the Prop 37 debate has been a tad bit seedy, no pun intended. The multi-national corporation has spared no cost and has yet to shy away from their poignant attacks to suppress the growing farming industry in California. However, the campaign in favor of Prop 37 has already germinated. While the number of donations increases significantly, Prop 37 advocates are emerging and are proving that they have power in people, not money.

But why is Monsanto spending so much money to support the opposition? What’s in it for them, or perhaps, what’s not in it for them? Passing Prop 37 could mean a large loss in profits for Monsanto Company as labels on food may deter consumers. Researchers in France fed one group of rats a GM diet of Monsanto’s corn crop while the other group of rats was not. This in-depth study by researchers at the University of Caen includes the study on the whole life cycle of the rats, instead of a mere three months, which is the typical time frame of most studies on this issue. Not only did the rats develop tumors, but the study also showed that “50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group”. Results such as these may dissuade consumers from purchasing some GM foods or may opt out altogether. Monsanto’s position regarding the safety of their GM crops remains unchanged despite this study and other claims about the biotech crop’s health concerns. This study, however, may lead consumers to be skeptical about what it is Monsanto et. al is promoting as completely safe. On countless occasions you’ve probably heard your mother say, “you are what you eat”, but what if you don’t exactly know what it actually is you are eating?

All Roads Lead from Paris: C’est La Ban
We live in a world where consumers are continually taking more interest in food. In Europe, no other country leads the fight against genetically modified crops like France. France has remained stalwart on its ban of its genetically modified crops despite the European bloc’s approval of their use. Hungary has destroyed all of its genetically modified cornfields. However, Europe is not alone. In 2013, India will require a tag on all GM products. Even Monsanto’s employees have argued to require their cafeteria to serve non-GM food items.

Countries are turning their backs on this method of crop growing and now even the company that produces genetically modified seeds seems to be fighting from within the belly of the beast. They are arguing the very same thing that grassroots campaigners in support of Prop-37 are pursuing in California: the right to know what we eat, and like the employees at Monsanto, the right to eat non-genetically modified food. But that’s silly. The fact that their own employees are reaching out for more rights to their food options isn’t a big deal...

California: The First Frontier
California is an agricultural trendsetter. A win in favor of Prop 37 would be a watershed victory for the grassroots campaign. California is home to a growing farming community that provides produce nationwide. The effects of Prop 37 would permeate state borders and inspire discussion and, ultimately, change how food has been marketed. California is just the beginning. Not only is this a high profile issue that affects Californians, but rather, every digesting individual.

While corporations claim that GMOs are safe and that there is no cause for complaint, studies home and abroad have indicated otherwise leaving many to wonder who is being deceptive: grassroots supporters trying to make a lifestyle change against all odds, or the corporate titans. Genetically modified foods are in corporations’ best interests with regard to profits because many of their products contain GMOs, which in turn may affect the decisions of conscious consumers if labeling is required. It seems naïve to expect corporations to not be champions of the very thing that makes them flourish.

In 1991 nutrition facts labels began to be required on packaged food. Now, people use them every day. Many of us probably are unable to remember a world without nutrition facts. The point is, by knowing, about the nutritional value in that box of cereal or in that bag of chips, consumers can decide if it’s right for them. How is this order of labeling any different? Now the time has come to allow consumers to make informed decisions on whether or not they want to buy foods containing genetically modified organisms.

Let’s face it: Technology is great. Being able to buy perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables even when they are not in season is great, even a luxury. But at what cost? Just some food for thought.

Many celebrities and celebrity chefs have taken up the cause for labeling. Check out this video.

For more information visit the Yes on Prop 37 website.

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Colin Anderson