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Notes from LinkedIn: “Prop 37″ and Labeling Genetically-Modified Foods

By Marcus Samuelsson | November 8, 2012

This post was originally posted on November 5th as part of the LinkedIn Influencer’s Program. Proposition 37 was not passed in California on November 6th. Read some insightful responses to the outcome of the vote here and here.  

Photo: fishhawk

The election is incredibly important, particularly in California. Not only will the state have a large say in who the next President will be, they also have the potential to fundamentally alter how people look at food in this country. Featured prominently on the state ballot  will be Proposition 37, a “Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods Initiative.” If passed, the proposition would require food producers to label all raw or processed foods that come from any plants or animals that have undergone this form of scientific genetic change.

The debate over Prop 37 is heated on both sides. Those in favor of the bill claim that the human health risks of consuming genetically modified organisms are still unknown and that the consumer has a right to know what’s in his or her food. Those against labeling, which include large biotechnology firms like Monsanto and DuPont, argue that the regulations are too confusing, as restaurant foods and meat coming from animals fed GM crops are exempt while grocery items are not, and would result in extra costs for the consumer. (Experts predict this increase could be as much as $300 per year per household.) Although pro-consumer awareness, scientists and development experts also warn that labeling these foods may send the signal that they are inherently dangerous (which has yet to be proven), halting innovation in a field that could potentially help feed an ever-growing population in a world increasingly affected by climate change.

If this bill is passed, food policy experts predict labeling would quickly become standard national practice, leading the United States to join the approximately 50 other nations that have mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. An excellent overview of California’s Proposition 37 can be listened to here.

Even as advertisements for, such as this, and against Prop 37, such as this and this , play on Californian TV, polling shows the majority of the consumers are in favoring of labeling GMO foods.

While there is a lot of important information on both sides (and misinformation as well), I find myself torn about where to stand on this issue. Proposition 37 and labeling do mark an important step towards creating Michael Pollan’s cohesive Food Movement, helping to liberate American eating from commerical agricultural interests and pushing us towards more sustainable organic farming practices. But at the same time, I can’t shirk the feeling that die hard advocates of labeling are letting middle-class considerations of taste overpowering real-world costs that affect millions of low-income Americans. As many analyses have concluded, it is the poor and the elderly who will most likely take the brunt of the price increases associated with Proposition 37, as the young and affluent already consume the majority of “organic” foods. If a law increases food prices in grocery stores while exempting restaurants, including fast food places, the previous price disparities that already push those struggling to put food on the table to opt for the cheaper fast food options will only be exacerbated.

My hands are tied: I like the idea of Proposition 37 but not the immediate future it fortells. If I were to find myself at a polling booth in California, I guess my vote would be a hesitant yes.  My vote would not be cast in violent protest against the unknown perils of “frankenfoods” or with the misguided belief that simply putting a label on things will solve all our eating woes. Instead I would go to the polls with the hope that passing Proposition 37 will continue to spark the kind of debates that will lead to greater innovation and improvement in the food system for all Americans.

We will find out definitively when Prop 37 comes to a vote in California, but what do you think? Should we label GMO foods?

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