Taking sides in California’s genetically engineered food fight

The producers of genetically engineered food are spending millions of dollars in its defense. In fact, the financial reports on Proposition 37 show things shaping up similarly to how they did for Proposition 29, the failed initiative to raise the cigarette tax and use the money for medical research. Groups with a strong concern about a particular health issue -- the Lance Armstrong Foundation, for example, in the case of cigarette taxes, and Mercola Health Resources in the case of Proposition 27 -- place a nice sum into the kitty to pass the initiative, but their efforts are far outweighed by industry donations. In Proposition 37’s case, the industry charge is being led by Monsanto.

The pro-Proposition 37 forces have raised about $2 million, less than a 10th of the $25 million contributed to the opposition, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan research group MapLight. You can expect those numbers to rise, largely on the “no” side, in coming weeks.

The initiative on the November ballot would require genetically engineered foods (also called GMO, for genetically modified, though “engineered” is the more accurate term; scientists are modifying the genes of food every time they create a hybrid through good old-fashioned breeding) to be labeled as such in the supermarket.

PHOTOS: Seven foods, genetically engineered

But a new study out of UC Davis takes a dim view of the initiative. It says the resulting labels would be confusing and even misleading to customers. Conventional foods with even a trace of the modified foods would have to be labeled as containing them, while organic foods with a somewhat higher level of genetically engineered foods wouldn’t. And because almost all nonorganic foods would have to carry the label, the study predicts that consumers would stop even noticing it. And it notes that these would be the toughest labeling requirements in the world. Even Europe, a bastion of hatred for genetically engineered foods, allows a tiny bit of them in foods without requiring a label.


You can read the report yourself here.

The editorial board has not yet met with the two sides. But among the questions will be: Why shouldn’t we just encourage producers of conventional foods that do not contain genetically engineered ingredients to put that on the label? Wouldn’t it be a selling point? (Trader Joe’s is getting a lot of consumer love for its shunning of foods whose DNA has been tinkered with in a lab.)

Any questions you’d like to see the editorial board raise with either or both sides?


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