By KEVIN WALKER
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Voters in California last week rejected a ballot measure, Proposition 37, which would have required companies to specially label food packages that contain genetically modified (GMO) material.
The measure lost, 47 to 53 percent. According to a summary provided by the California Secretary of State’s office, those favoring the measure thought it would give Californians appropriate knowledge about what’s in the food they eat and feed to their families.
“It simply requires labeling of food produced using genetic engineering, so we can choose whether to buy those products or not,” supporters stated. “We have a right to know.”
A summary argument opposing Prop. 37 described the measure as a deceptive, deeply flawed labeling scheme, full of special-interest exemptions and loopholes. It said Prop. 37 would have created a new government bureaucracy costing taxpayers millions, authorized expensive shakedown lawsuits against farmers and small businesses and increased family grocery bills by hundreds of dollars per year.
A “No on Prop. 37” campaign was started, with seed company Monsanto Co. and others putting up big bucks to oppose the measure.
“We were members of the ‘No on Prop 37,’” said Nathan Fields, director of biotechnology and economic analysis at the National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA). “We feel the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) labeling guidelines are satisfactory as they are now.
“We were happy to see Prop. 37 voted down. I think it was a win for the California consumer. That doesn’t mean we’re opposed to the consumer knowing what they’re getting.”
Fields and others say there is already an effective way to avoid consuming foods with GMO material in them, simply by buying certified organic.
“Corporations that produce both the genetically engineered crops and their designer pesticides, in concert with the multibillion-dollar food manufacturers that use these ingredients, fought this measure tooth and nail, throwing $46 million at the effort that would have required food manufacturers to include informational labeling on GMO content on their packaging,” said Mark Kastel, director of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic farming advocacy group based in Wisconsin.
But Kastel said, in a way, certified organic goes much further than what Prop. 37 would have done, since organic meat, milk and eggs must come from animals not treated with GMO hormones, and fed a diet free of GMO ingredients.
According to Kastel, Prop. 37 would not have required labels on meat, milk and eggs from animals given GMO feed. Alcoholic beverages were also not covered under Prop. 37, he said.
According to the nonprofit group Maplight, which focuses on the influence of money in politics, the top three donors to the “No on Prop. 37” campaign were Monsanto at $8.2 million, DuPont at $5.4 million and PepsiCo at $2.4 million. The top three donors to the “Yes on Prop. 37” campaign were Mercola.com Health Resources LLC at $1.1 million, Kent Whealy at $1 million and Nature’s Path Foods USA, Inc. at $660,000.
Another argument against the proposition was that it wasn’t really about labeling, but about getting GMO material out of the food supply. According to an analysis that appears on the “No on Prop. 37” website, passage of Prop. 37 would have resulted in the replacement of GMO material in food with non-GMO material, at least in California.
This, the analysis says, would have resulted in an average food bill increase of $33 a month. According to Fields, because of its size, Prop. 37 in California would have had an effect outside the state, too.
“I think it would be difficult to make a label just for California,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say that had it passed, the law would have had more far-reaching implications than just California.”