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California's Proposition 37 of 2012

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California's Proposition 37 of 2012 (Prop 37) is a ballot initiative that California will vote on on November 6, 2012. The initiative will require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Specifically, Prop 37:

  • "Requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
  • "Prohibits labeling or advertising such food, or other processed food, as “natural.”
  • "Exempts 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."[1]

Leading up to the election, advocacy groups on both sides of the issue formed. A group called No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme opposed Prop 37, whereas the following groups supported Prop 37:

Industry Funded Study Claims Prop 37 Will Raise Food Prices

The Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme, which opposes Prop 37, funded a study that found that Prop 37, if it passed, would increase food prices in California.[2] The study, by UC-Davis professors Julian M. Alston and Daniel A. Sumner, is called "Proposition 37 – California Food Labeling Initiative: Economic Implications for Farmers and the Food Industry if the Proposed Initiative were Adopted." But the study's conclusions are based on an assumption that lacks data to back it up, and the study authors exhibit bias in favor of GMOs. According to the LA Times, "The study doesn't read like the usual, carefully couched work of academics. It's a spitfire of a report that boldly starts out, "A Costly Regulation with No Benefits." That sounds more like No on 37 campaign literature than a university study."[3]

The study's conclusions are drawn based on the assumption that "very few if any foods would be found in supermarkets carrying a GE label as required by Proposition 37. Supermarkets and other retailers in California would not find it profitable to stock those products, so they would not order them. Food processors and manufacturers accordingly would provide alternative food products produced without using GE ingredients." As a large percentage of foods sold in the U.S. are genetically engineered, if California supermarkets were to switch to selling only GE-free products, it would result in a large disruption in the food industry, as the study indicates. But it is not a foregone conclusion that supermarkets will respond to Prop 37 by switching to GE-free products.

The study makes this assumption based on its observation of the EU, which already requires labeling of GMOs, as well as some discussions from the U.S. food industry. As "the mandatory labeling policies in the EU have resulted in a virtual absence of GE ingredients from products in the market," the study authors assume that the same would occur in California if Prop 37 were to pass. However, it fails to take into account that "Studies in the United States find consumers to be more accepting of genetically modified foods compared with consumers in Europe and Japan."[4]

Additionally, the study clearly exhibits a bias in favor of genetically engineered foods, providing unsubstantiated and false claims about their benefits. For example, in a section called "Misleading Claims and Errors of Scientific Fact in Proposition 37" the study claims that GMOs increase yields and results in farmers switching from more toxic herbicides to less toxic glyphosate. Both claims fail to stand up to scrutiny. While the Berkeley study cites only one source for its conclusion, a more encompassing study of the available data and literature on the subject found that "Modern biotechnology and its products have not reliably increased yield of crops" and "Modern biotechnology may have indirect benefits through reduction in the quantity or type of pest control agrochemicals that are used on GM crops. These benefits are contested and likely not sustainable. Moreover, these benefits fare poorly overall in comparison with agroecological farming approaches."[5]

Monsanto's Spin on Prop 37

Monsanto, the biotech and chemical giant that makes more GMOs than any other corporation, posted on its blog about Prop 37.[6] Lawyer and public health advocate Michele Simon took Monsanto to task for dishonest and misleading information in its post.[7]

Simon says the following are "10 lies" Monsanto tells in its statement:[8]

1) The law “would require a warning label on food products.”
No warning label would be required. Rather, the words “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering” would be required on the back of the package – similar to what is now required for ingredient or allergen labeling. For whole foods, like the sweet corn coming soon to a Walmart near you, a sign would be posted on the store shelf with the words “genetically engineered.” The aim is simply to offer consumers additional information about the contents of the foods they purchase.
2) “The safety and benefits of these ingredients are well established.”
"Unfortunately, no long-term studies exist on either the safety or benefits of GMO ingredients, so Monsanto has no basis for making such a claim. Indeed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not even require safety studies of genetically engineered foods. Meanwhile, some independent studies raise questions about links to allergies and other potential health risks.
3) “The American Medical Association just re-affirmed that there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”
"This statement, while true, is taken out of context and is misleading because the AMA also (for the first time) called for mandatory premarket safety studies of GMOs. As Consumers Union recently noted in its reaction to AMA’s announcement, labeling and testing logically go together:
"The AMA’s stance on mandatory labeling isn’t consistent with its support for mandatory pre-market safety assessments. If unexpected adverse health effects, such as an allergic reaction, happen as a result of GE, then labeling could perhaps be the only way to determine that the GE process was linked to the adverse health effect.
4) Food companies “have had the choice” to use GM ingredients.
"Choice is a good thing; however, consumers have never had the choice. Prop 37 will give consumers a long-overdue choice about eating genetically engineered food.
5) “FDA says that such labeling would be inherently misleading to consumers.”
"Of course FDA refuses to require GMO labeling, thanks to Monsanto’s arm-twisting that began more than 20 years ago. Food Democracy Now’s Dave Murphy explained the FDA decision in May upon its 20-year anniversary, which came as a result of a broader deregulatory push by the first Bush Administration:
"Twenty years ago this week, then-Vice President Dan Quayle announced the FDA’s policy on genetically engineered food as part of his “regulatory relief initiative.” As Quayle explained in the 1992 press conference, the American biotechnology industry would reap huge profits “as long as we resist the spread of unnecessary regulations.”
"Dan Quayle’s 1992 policy announcement is premised on the notion that genetically engineered crops are “substantially equivalent” to regular crops and thus do not need to be labeled or safety tested. The policy was crafted by Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lawyer who was hired by the Bush FDA to fill the newly created position of deputy commissioner of policy.
"Five years earlier, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush visited a Monsanto lab for a photo op with the developers of Roundup Ready crops. According to a video report of the meeting, when Monsanto executives worried about the approval process for their new crops, Bush laughed and told them, “Call me. We’re in the dereg businesses. Maybe we can help.”
"Call they did. It’s typical for corporations to get their policy agenda approved through back-channel lobbying and revolving door appointments and then point to the magical policy outcome as evidence of scientific decision making.
6) “Consumers have broad food choices today, but could be denied these choices if Prop 37 prevails.”
"There is no basis in logic that consumers could be denied food choices. Indeed, Proposition 37 actually broadens the meaningful food choices available through greater transparency. Right now, people are eating in the dark.
7) “Interestingly, the main proponents of Proposition 37 are special interest groups and individuals opposed to food biotechnology who are not necessarily engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply.”
"In fact, quite a large number of food producers, farmers, and others very much “engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply” support the campaign. (See the growing list of endorsements.) Speaking of “special interest groups” wouldn’t that label apply to the likes of Monsanto and all the industrial food producers who oppose Proposition 37?
8) “Beneath their right to know slogan is a deceptive marketing campaign aimed at stigmatizing modern food production.”
"“Modern food production,” is that Monsanto’s latest euphemism for scientifically altering the genetic code of the food supply? In truth, nothing is hidden “beneath” the Right to Know campaign, that’s all it’s about. But because Monsanto has no good argument for why consumers don’t have the right to know how their food is produced, it has to resort to distracting deceptions.
9) “[Proponents] opinions are in stark contrast with leading health associations.”
"Another look at the long list of Prop 37 endorsements reveal that Monsanto and friends are actually out of step with leading health associations, such as:
  • American Public Health Association
  • American Medical Students Association
  • American Academy of Environmental Medicine
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility, California chapters
  • California Nurses Association
10) “The California proposal would serve the purposes of a few special interest groups at the expense of the majority of consumers.”
"Again, logic defies this talking point, especially since all polling indicates a “majority of consumers” want GMO food to be labeled. Indeed, the most recent California poll shows the proposition winning by a 3-to-1 margin. No wonder Monsanto has to resort to such nonsensical talking points."

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS. LABELING. INITIATIVE STATUTE. California Secretary of State.
  2. Julian M. Alston and Daniel A. Sumner, "Proposition 37 – California Food Labeling Initiative: Economic Implications for Farmers and the Food Industry if the Proposed Initiative were Adopted," September 3, 2012.
  3. Karin Klein, "The food industry's big problem with genetically engineered food," LA Times, September 7, 2012.
  4. Kynda R. Curtis, Jill J. McCluskey, and Thomas I. Wahl, "Consumer Acceptance of Genetically Modified Food Products in the Developing World," AgBioForum, 7(1&2): 70-75.
  5. Jack A. Heinemann, Hope Not Hype: The Future of Agriculture Guided by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development, Third World Network, 2009, p. 10-11.
  6. "Taking a Stand: Proposition 37, the California labeling proposal," August 14, 2012, Accessed September 14, 2012.
  7. Michele Simon, "Top 10 Lies Told by Monsanto on GMO Labeling in California," Appetite for Profit, August 21, 2012, Accessed September 14, 2012.
  8. Michele Simon, "Top 10 Lies Told by Monsanto on GMO Labeling in California," Appetite for Profit, August 21, 2012, Accessed September 14, 2012.

External resources

External articles

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