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Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Food Be Labeled?

Backers, including a determined group of Napa Valley residents, say people have the right to know if what they're eating has been genetically modified. Critics say Proposition 37 costs too much and hurts small farmers.

What’s the harm in a simple label? It depends on whom you ask.

Proposition 37 would make California the first state in the union to require that certain plant or animal products sold be labeled if its genetic material has been modified. The law would also make it illegal for food companies to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as “natural.”

Supporters of the Nov. 6 ballot measure say it’s just a label that will allow people to decide whether they want to eat genetically modified food.

"If these products are safe then what is the harm in labeling them and letting consumers make their own decisions?" wrote Cindy Clark of Napa in a letter to the editor on Napa Valley Patch.

But opponents call the label unnecessary, and capable of injecting bureaucratic hurdles and billions in costs for businesses and consumers.

"We can't have one food labeling law for evey different state. It would be absolutely impossible for anybody to follow," said Sonoma farmer Ruth Waltenspiel, who with her husband Ronall took part in a ballot measure forum at First United Methodist Church in downtown Napa Oct. 7. "It would have to be a federal program to move forward and to do this thing properly."

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office said that since GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, a vast majority of the corn and soybean crop grown in the United States is genetically modified. According to some estimates, 40 percent to 70 percent of food found in grocery stores is genetically engineered.

Labeling would be regulated by the Department of Public Health, but retailers would be responsible for ensuring products are compliant with the law.

The government or private citizens will be able to file lawsuits that do not require demonstrating any damage was caused as a result of not labeling food.

The analyst’s office estimates that putting 37 into effect would cost “a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually.”

No specific estimates on costs associated with litigation are offered by the office, but it concluded “these costs are not likely to be significant in the longer run.”

Opponents of Prop. 37 believe labels could cost a lot more than the price of a sticker.

A study paid for by the “No on 37” campaign estimates that when lawsuits and other expenses are considered, the new law could cost more than $5 billion, and up to $400 annually for an average family.

Backers of Prop. 37 say retailers just need to follow the law, and voters shouldn’t be discouraged by scare tactics.

A poll conducted at the end of September found that 76.8 percent of Californians plan to vote “yes” on 37, with 71 percent stating their primary reason was because “people have the right to know what is in their food.”

Nearly half of all people who took the poll conducted by University of Oklahoma agricultural economists said they changed their vote from yes to no when they heard about potential increases in food costs.

Another poll found that more than 60 percent of Californians support Prop. 37.

Contrary to public opinion, editorial boards at more than 30 newspapers statewide have urged Californians to vote no on Prop. 37.

“No” on 37 votes may rise before Election Day as opponents inject millions of dollars into the race with help from big makers of  pesticides and genetically engineered seeds like Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer.

By the end of September, the “No on 37” campaign raised nearly $35 million.

In contrast, the “Yes on 37” campaign, California Right to Know, raised about $4 million by the end of September. Despite a wide spending gap, the Yes on Prop. 37 campaign has garnered support from celebrities like Dave Matthews and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia stars Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito.

Both campaigns have been criticized for bending the truth or trying to scare the public, said the San Jose Mercury News.

California Right to Know cited a recent study by a French scientist that has been widely criticized and called insufficient by European food safety officials. It concluded that rats who eat Monsanto GMO corn have a higher rate of tumors and organ damage.

The study paid for by the “No on 37” campaign claims billions in costs, but assumes GMO food would be replaced with organic ingredients.

If approved, Proposition 37 would take effect in 2014.

Yes on 37 arguments:

  • Labels mean you know if your food was genetically engineered.
  • No current studies rule out health risks from eating GMOs. Labels would make it easier for people to choose to protect their families from afflictions some doctors say GMO lead to, including allergies and other health risks.
  • GMO labels are already a requirement in more than 40 countries, including Japan, China, India and European Union nations.

No on 37 arguments:

  • Labeling the majority of foods sold as GMO would be a logistical nightmare that would pump higher costs and government bureaucracy into people’s lives.
  • Reputable public health groups like the World Health Organization and National Academy of Sciences have determined there are no health risks in eating genetically engineered food.
  • Foods that receive an exemption from labels are special interests
  • Lawsuits could have serious economic impact and become a hidden food tax.
  • Prop. 37 could hurt small farmers.

What do you think of Prop. 37? Tell us in the comments. To read what Napa Valley residents have said about the proposition, please see these letters to the editor:

  • Napa Letter: "Vote Yes on Proposition 37"
  • Napa Letter: "I am Voting YES on Proposition 37"
  • Napa Letter: "Let's Vote Yes on Proposition 37"
  • Napa Letter: Anti-Prop 37 TV Ads are "Outright Lies"
  • Napa Letter: "Prop 37 Labeling Should be Required" to Force Research

Napa Valley Patch welcomes your letters as well: Send them to editor Louisa Hufstader at napa@patch.com.

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Andy Shrader October 16, 2012 at 05:19 AM
I'm voting YES on 37!! In 2004, when Congress approved the Food Allergen Labeling Act, the same food companies kept yelling about high food prices and lawsuits. Guess what, it didn't happen. They followed the law and now consumers know that the food they're eating may have been made on equipment with peanuts or soy. The same thing applies here. It's a LABEL. Yes, there is a possibility of lawsuits. It's called enforcement. If a company or store follows the law, they will be fine. If not, they leave themselves open to a lawsuit, which will protect the rights of consumers to know what is in the food they're buying. If you think Monsanto isn't already suing farmers all over the place over this issue, they you haven't educated yourself. And if you believe they don't require GMO seed farmers to keep reams of paperwork about their patented seeds, you aren't paying attention. YES on 37!
nicole October 16, 2012 at 06:09 AM
Montsanto is a horrible company and GMO's are dangerous. Our government knows but the FDA is in bed with the chemical companies. I already pay higher prices for food, it's called shopping organic and owrth every penny. The documentary Genetic Roulette is an excellent place to start if you want to know more about the dangers of GMO's.
nicole October 16, 2012 at 06:10 AM
Montsanto is a horrible company and GMO's are dangerous. Our government knows but the FDA is in bed with the chemical companies. I already pay higher prices for food, it's called shopping organic and owrth every penny. The documentary Genetic Roulette is an excellent place to start if you want to know more about the dangers of GMO's.
Steve Sando October 16, 2012 at 07:36 PM
I can't imagine why anyone would be against this!
John Richards October 16, 2012 at 09:10 PM
The primary backer of the opposition is Monsanto, the chemical company that gave us 'safe' products such as DDT and Agent Orange. 'Nuff said.

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