Pushing Back Against Genetically Modified Foods

The news was good for The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act campaign in early May, which gathered one million signatures for the labeling initiative. The controversial proposal requires labeling on any foods bought and sold in California that contain genetically modified ingredients. The initiative is expected to be on the ballot in November. About 19 state legislatures considered bills requiring similar labeling, but no bills were passed.

Genetically Modified Foods, Credit: Nels Israelson, FlickrCC
Stacy Malkan

“Consumers were never asked about this GE [genetically engineered] technology,” says Stacy Malkan, spokesperson for the initiative.

The stakes are high. California ranks number one in the U.S. with $37.5 billion in cash receipts for farm products in 2010, the most recent year for complete statistics. On average California is the seventh largest agricultural economy in the world, the organization reports.

Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for The Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, says, “The effects of this proposition would be to ban tens or thousands of safe products from the grocery shelves. Consumers will think there is something wrong with them. They [the opposition] have equated these labels with a skull and crossbones.”

The coalition, funded by the Council for Biotechnology Information and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, cites concerns about unfair economic competition from products entering California from abroad or other states that have no required label.

Major supporters of the labeling initiative include the Sierra Club, the American Public Health Association, Eden Foods, and the United Farm Workers.

Labeling exemptions in the proposal include alcoholic beverages, restaurant meals, items from salad bars and organic food. Dairy such as eggs, butter and milk are also exempt.

Currently, GE ingredients (also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) can be found in breakfast cereals, soy beans, granola, sugar beets, canola, corn and alfalfa.