Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Get to Know Prop 37

One of the events we'd like to hold this year is a panel discussion on an issue that could drastically change the dynamics of California supermarkets and grocery stores: Proposition 37.

Proposition 37, also known as the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act of 2012, would require that food products containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled as such. While food scientists know very well that the majority of the items in stores are made from GMOs (high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, tomatoes, added vitamins, etc.), the general population would be very surprised to find out that their vegan Boca burgers are made with GMO soy or that their Nature Valley granola bar contains more than just a few genetically modified ingredients.

If passed, food products made from GM ingredients would be required to have the words "Partially produced with genetic engineering" on the front or back label. Whole foods would require a sign on the shelf and products such as alcohol, eggs, dairy, and most meats would be exempt. Manufacturers and grocers would have 18 months to make these changes.

So what's the big deal? Food labels already include nutrition facts, allergy information, and ingredient lists. What harm could another little label do? Apparently, enough for Prop 37 opponents to donate nearly $25 million to stop the proposal from passing. These opponents include big food companies such as Pepsi Co. and Kellogg and biotech companies like Monsanto and DuPont. These companies compose the No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme and argue that Proposition 37:
  • would increase food costs by implementing costly new labeling packaging, distribution, record keeping and other bureaucratic operations that will cost billions of dollars to implement. Food producers would have to bear the added cost of having one package and label for a product sold in California, and a different package and label for the product when it is shipped to other states.
  • was drafted by a lawyer to create a new class of "head hunter" lawsuits, allowing lawyers to sue family farmers, food companies and grocers that do not label food properly. It subjects farmers, grocers and food companies – and ultimately consumers and taxpayers – to huge litigation costs and lawyer payouts.
  • contains special-interest exemptions. Milk, cheese and meat are free from its labeling requirements, although cows, pigs and chickens are fed genetically modified grains.
  • creates the stigma that GMOs are not safe even though genetic modification (ie. cross-breeding and hybridization) has been done for centuries.

Proponents for the proposition have raised a total of $2.7 million in funds and include The Organic Consumers Fund and Nature's Path Foods Inc. as well as numerous individuals who are able to donate to the cause through the Yes on 37 website. According to Yes on 37, Prop 37:
  • gives consumers the right to know what is in their food. GMOs have not been proven safe and the FDA does not require safety studies for genetically modified foods.
  • is just like a Nutrition Facts label. Before the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, nutrition labels were not mandatory, but are now read by consumers every day.
  • has no cost impact on consumers or food producers. Food companies change their labels and packaging constantly in order to appeal to consumers and Prop 37 simply adds a label to genetically engineered food.
  • would require transparency from farms and food manufacturers that use GM ingredients and removes their ability to label foods as "natural."
The results of a recent poll sponsored by Pepperdine University and the California Business Roundtable reveal that 69% of respondents support Prop 37. However, the enormous amount of funds provided by Prop 37 opponents allows for a huge media campaign towards Californians, telling voters how grocery bills would increase if the act were to pass.

Election Day (November 6) is quickly approaching and it's time for voters to educate themselves on the issues. The FSNSA is in the midst of organizing a panel discussion for Chapman students and the public which would feature representatives from both sides of the argument allowing voters to get the facts behind each initiative and ask questions to the panelists.

So whose side are you on? Is it hypocritical to vote Yes on 37 with Frosted Flakes in your shopping cart? Tell us in the comments!