There’s a proposition on California’s ballot on Tuesday that is an easy Yes for me. It’s Proposition 37, which would require foods with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. There’s so much information on labels already that this seems a simple thing. But when you’re going up against companies that don’t want to face the chance of consumer bias against their products, nothing is that simple.
I found this article on the deceptive ads by No on 37 very interesting. They’re being deceptive about the FDA’s position on the matter, cost claims, and have made misleading statements on the exemptions provided for in the law. Read the whole thing, follow through on the interesting links there, don’t just take my word for it.
Their claim about grocery bills increasing by $400 is rather deceptive too. It’s not that food prices would be directly increased. It’s that opponents believe consumers will insist on higher priced ingredients rather than buying products with GMO ingredients, and so manufacturers might have to change what’s in their products and raise prices.
Frankly, if that’s what consumers prefer, then they’ll choose the higher prices. That’s a choice, not a requirement of the law. I don’t have a problem with people choosing to pay more if they mistrust the ingredients. Personally, and I have nothing to back this up except personal experience, I think most people will ignore such labeling anyhow. How many people are going to switch away from Pepsi just for finding that the high fructose corn syrup may come from genetically modified corn?
All that aside, a study by Joanna Shepherd Bailey, Ph.D., a tenured professor at Emory University School of Law expects that there will be no increased cost to consumers. (PDF) I suspect that claim has more to do with the industry’s general resistance to new labeling requirements, even though changing labels is done regularly and isn’t a major expense.
Research on GMOs is Limited
Producers like to claim that they’ve properly tested GMO foods before sending them to market. That would be nice, but companies have a lot of control over any research done on GM foods. According to Scientific American, licensing agreements forbid research on genetically modified seeds, unless the company agrees to it. They then also get to decide whether or not the results may be published.
That isn’t just a food safety issue, although that’s what’s relevant when talking about Prop 37. It means that it’s harder for other scientists to prove whether or not the genetically modified seeds perform as claimed.
If the companies making GMOs really want proof that their products are safe and more productive, why don’t they welcome outside research?
Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?
When it comes to the safety of genetically modified foods for human consumption, I’ll stick with the World Health Organization’s view – it’s impossible to state yes or no categorically. Some might be, some might not be. So why not let consumers decide if they want to take that chance?
There have been some controversial studies which suggest that some types are not safe to eat. Seems clear to me that more study is indicated. If they’re so safe, there’s little to be lost. If not, well, I’d sure like to know that too.
You may also enjoy reading some of the summaries on Pubmed, although you won’t always be able to get the full text without proper credentials. Try Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice and A comparison of the effects of three GM corn varieties on mammalian health. There’s more, but due to restrictions on research on GMOs, it’s hard to find. Personally, I’d like more long term studies proving that GMOs are safe.
Is the Proposition Poorly Written?
This is one of the big claims of the No on 37 folks. I don’t think it’s all that complex – I’ve read it myself. You can do so too – here’s a copy through KCET, or you can download the PDF from the California Voter’s Guide website. I also really appreciate KCET’s listing of supportors and opponents of Prop 37. It’s really not surprising, on the whole.
There’s not much time before the election, but I hope this article gives at least some people some perspective on this subject so they can come to a decision.