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On November 6, California will vote to decide whether genetically modified food will require new labeling. Proposition 37 would require that all food sold to consumers made from plant or animal material that has had its genetic properties changed in certain ways must have labeling stating it has been “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” As well as ensuring genetically modified foods must contain this statement on its packaging, Proposition 37 also prohibits genetically modified (GM) foods from being labeled as “natural.”
The main argument for Proposition 37 is the public has the right to know exactly what they are putting into their bodies. The campaigners for the proposition believe that it is one of the fundamental American values to have the right to know, and choose what to eat. They are also pointing to the fact that fifty countries already currently require labeling for genetically modified food as proof that California should have similar laws.
The argument against Proposition 37, however, is comprised of two parts. Firstly, they believe that the introduction of labeling for GM foods would drive up foods costs. One site, “NoProp37.com,” is claiming that should proposition 37 go ahead, then the average family would end up paying up to $400 more a year on food.
Families would only see a rise in their food bill of this size if food producers were to replace every single genetically modified ingredient with organic or non-GM ingredients. While it is likely that some products will have all genetically modified ingredients removed so consumers are not put off by their lack of natural ingredients, it is unlikely that this will happen to all but a few products.
The second point those against the proposition are making is that the labeling system is deeply flawed. With the current system 66% of food expenditures would be exempt from being labeled as containing GM ingredients. For instance, food that does contain genetically modified ingredients is excluded if it will be eaten away from home. All meat, fish and poultry are excluded regardless of whether they have been given natural feed or genetically modified feed. Alcohol is also exempt from the labeling system, but non-alcoholic drinks must be labeled if they contain genetically modified ingredients.
NoProp37.com also points out that Prop 37 was written by a trial lawyer who also helped write Prop 65, and has made a fortune suing businesses.
But what actually is genetically modified food, and why do people want to know whether they eat it or not?
Genetically modified foods differ from normal foods in that they have had changes made to their DNA, either by removing certain genes or by adding other genes, often from viruses and bacteria. This modifies the food slightly, allowing it to grow faster or be resistant to certain pesticides, depending on what genes are added to the plant’s DNA.
There are possible health risks in eating these ingredients. So far, there have been hundreds of reports about the dangers, or lack of, of GM foods, but none of them have managed to prove conclusively that GM foods are bad for one’s health, or pose no health risk at all.
The latest study released on the subject showed that genetically modified food gave rats cancer. However, these results have to be taken with a grain of salt, considering the researchers of this study are well-known to be against GM foods and the lead author has previously been told off by the EU for his statistical techniques in a study of GM corn (being fed to rats, no less).
Genetically modified foods have been grown commercially in America since 1996. Since then, global production of GM foods has grown for fifteen consecutive years, reaching 160 million hectares in 2011.
If Prop 37 is voted in, then California would become the first US state to require GM foods to be labeled as so. This could well cause other states to follow California’s example, and result in the whole of America requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods.
Considering the fact that in 2011 80% of all corn and 94% of soybeans in the US were grown from GM seeds, its clear this is a momentous time for America and could have far reaching consequences for the agricultural industry.