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By Arianna Locatell
California’s November Ballot has the biotechnology industry compromised, as Prop 37 threatens to override the synergy of business and politics that has enabled the lucrative industry and threatened the American ideal of liberty for nearly two decades.
One of the main concerns regarding biotechnology is the way in which genetically modified (GM) foods have quietly been put on supermarket shelves without any notice to consumers. Pamm Larry, a California resident concerned with the safety of GM foods, initiated the ballot measure for prop 37, creating the California Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act; and giving California the opportunity to be a pioneer in the labeling GM foods in the U.S. Speaking on behalf of the public, Larry says that mandatory labeling is important because “we are consumers and have the right in a free market to know what we are purchasing.” The California Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act states that “the purpose of this measure is to create and enforce the fundamental right of the people of California to be fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat is genetically engineered and not misbranded as natural so that they can choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods.” Thus far, Prop 37 has widespread support. A recent study conducted by the Mellman Group indicates that 91% of American voters support mandatory labeling of genetically modified products.
Almost entirely born of economic concerns, the antagonistic opponents of Prop 37 have spent $25 million in media advertisements to convince people that Prop 37 is “arbitrary,” “ill-conceived” and “illogical.” The No on 37 campaign is majorly funded by Monsanto, the leading biotechnology corporation that accounts for most of the world’s seed supply; Dupont; Dow; Coca-Cola and General Mills. Opponents of Prop 37 argue that implementing labels will result in food producers paying exorbitant costs to re-label their products and it will further cause them to lose money by deterring consumers. Erroneously, claims have been made that it will raise grocery bills for consumers. As Prop 37 is not calling to ban GM foods, only label them, the products will still be on the market, at the same price, for consumers to buy post labeling enforcement. As Prop 37 will outlaw the misbranding of GM foods as natural, an additional concern of the No on 37 campaign is that the legality of marketing various processed food products will become questionable and result in lawsuits.
Proponents of Prop 37 from the California Right To Know campaign advocate for the labeling of GM foods for health and environmental concerns. In the 1990’s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved GM foods and new plant varieties for commercial use as substantially equivalent to their naturally grown counterparts. Disconcertingly, under their current status with the FDA, GM foods are not subject to premarket safety assessments. Instead, the FDA states that “it is the responsibility of the producer of a new food to evaluate the safety of the food.” As a result of the FDA’s policy on GM foods and U.S. patent laws that safeguard corporations’ intellectual property, public sector testing of GM foods has been inhibited and knowledge regarding the effects of such foods is highly inadequate to determine whether or not they are safe for consumption. Additionally, plants have been genetically modified so that crops can either withstand or self-produce toxic herbicides and pesticides developed by Monsanto or other chemical engineering corporations. The use of such chemicals can cause soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the surfacing of herbicide resistant superweeds. Transgenic contamination also is point of concern.
Biotechnology companies have dominated the world’s seed supply, idyllically claiming that they’ll end world hunger with sustainable agriculture. For an industry with such great intentions, it seems odd that its corporations are contesting Prop 37 instead of proudly labeling their products. Pamm Larry muses that corporations remain secretive because “they are afraid that once people know the truth about their products and their lack of ethics in the market place, that people will not want their products as they haven’t in 49 other countries.” India, China, Japan and all of Europe currently impose labeling on GM foods. Biotechnology practices remain controversial in developing countries.
It’s a simple and clear truth that the effects of GM foods are unknown. It’s another simple and clear truth that consumers have the right to choose what they buy –or at least they should. Be it for a health, ecologic or moral principal, consumers ought to be capable of making educated decisions. 1.2 million people have already contacted the FDA requesting GM labeling, and widespread support for Prop 37 has already been shown. With success of Prop 37 in CA and continuous action from U.S. citizens, perhaps America will finally catch up to the rest of the world and offer it’s consumers the right and liberty to know what they’re eating.