The food industry’s big problem with genetically engineered food


The No on Proposition 37 campaign emailed Thursday to tout a new study by UC Davis professors. It concludes that the proposition on the November ballot to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods would cost the food industry more than a billion dollars and lead to higher food costs from consumers.

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. But wait. This calls for scrolling back to the title page, where it is revealed that “the work for this project was undertaken with partial funding support from No on 37.”


PHOTOS: Seven foods, genetically engineered


That doesn’t mean the study is without interest for voters. Its top point appears to be that costs will be high because consumers will avoid foods that have the “genetically engineered” label on them, so farms and food companies will go to great lengths to avoid such foods in their offerings. In other words, the No on 37 campaign is praising a study that concedes that food companies have a problem: They might like genetically engineered foods, but they are very aware that many consumers don’t. If those consumers were made aware that these were in the foods they buy, they likely would look elsewhere. It’s an odd admission for a campaign to make. And it’s a potentially controversial thing for lofty University of California professors to do, accepting money from a political campaign to come out with a study that takes sides on the campaign.

The point, of course, is that in their eyes consumers would be avoiding these products and hurting their own food budgets over nothing, or at least nothing that would affect their health. That’s quite possible. There’s a dearth of peer-reviewed studies showing that genetically engineered foods have any negative effect on health. There are, however, legitimate concerns about the effect of genetically engineered crops on the environment and on other crops.

The newest MapLight report on campaign contributions for Proposition 37 shows that the group in favor of labeling has raised some more funds, with a total of about $3.4 million. The opposition, led by such corporations as Monsanto, is at about the same level as several weeks ago -- which means it still swamps the pro-labeling camp, with about $25 million in its coffers.

The Times’ editorial board has not yet taken a position on Proposition 37. Endorsement interviews begin next week. This study will almost certainly come up in the conversation.


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