Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prop 37 in California

If you live in California, you’ve no doubt heard about a proposition that is on our November ballot that calls for foods to be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms (or GMO’s). This is big. I mean, really big. California would be the first state to have such legislation and that’s a big deal because in many ways California sets the tone for the rest of the nation. California is the world’s 8th largest economy after all (at least as of 2011).

It is estimated that up to 70% of the processed foods sold in grocery stores - from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain genetically engineered ingredients. And I’ll bet most people don’t know that. In an era of “transparency”, where we want to know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING, you’d think everybody would be on board with this. It just seems like a no-brainer.

In order to understand why there might be those who think this piece of legislation isn’t worthwhile, I had to check out the “No on Prop 37” website to see what on Earth their arguments against it could possibly be. After you get to the site you’ll see their tagline “Stop the deceptive food labeling scheme”. This just gets my goat. I mean, give me a break.

What’s so “deceptive” about Prop 37, when it actually provides information for consumers to make better food buying decisions? The website has some of the lamest arguments against it. They claim the legislation will cause the following:

1.       Higher grocery bills – they’ve estimated that Prop 37 will increase a family’s grocery bills by $400 per year. How they came up with this number is a mystery. I just don’t see how this is possible. If you don’t care that your food consists of GM ingredients, then buy away. No one is forcing anyone to actually buy the labeled foods. If they mean repackaging the foods with the new labeling will increase manufacturing costs which will therefore be passed on to the consumer, I just don’t buy it. Since manufacturers have 18 months to comply, they will likely change their label in the meantime anyway. I hardly think the small price increase in changing the artwork on the label will drive these mega-food conglomerates out of business!

2.       There will be a slew of “shakedown” lawsuits that result from this – those opposing Prop 37 foresee ambulance-chasing lawyers suing family farmers and grocers for “things they didn’t even know they were doing wrong”. This is ridiculous. All grocers need to do is make sure the foods on their shelves comply. They have 18 months in which to do so. How are farmers going to suffer? Maybe many of them will finally switch to growing organic because they have been forced by their buyers to grow GM foods for a while now. How can this be bad?

3.       Special Interest / Arbitrary Exemptions – this one is completely ridiculous. They claim that the foods requiring the labeling are arbitrary. Not really. They were chosen for a reason.
Fruit juice would require labeling, while beer wine and liquor would not
The reason for this is that most fruit juice sold in America contains HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) which is made from genetically engineered (GE) corn. Your 100% fruit juice manufacturers will be more than happy to say they are made without any GE ingredients. Beer is brewed from primarily barley and wheat, wine is made from grapes, and liquor distilled from potatoes, etc. so these beverages are typically not made from GE ingredients anyway, so what kind of an argument is that?

Soup sold in a grocery store, but not soup sold at restaurants
This is because most canned soup (think Campbell’s and Progresso and the like) contain GE ingredients while soup made in restaurants will typically be house-made. Monitoring whether or not soup sold at a restaurant contains GE ingredients would be virtually impossible, if not totally unnecessary. Think about it? Do we expect the “soup police” to come in to each establishment and dissect its ingredients? What government agency has the time for that and would it even make any sense? Give me a break.

Soy milk would require labeling, but not cow’s milk
Now that’s an easy one! 91% of soy grown in the U.S. is GE. Cow’s milk is not GE. It comes from… wait for it…yes, COWS! See the Center for Food Safety website.

Snack food sold in a grocery store would require labeling, while the same snack food sold at a snack bar would not
Well, I don’t completely understand that one. Again, I think it’s for the same reason why it would be difficult to monitor restaurants. How can we enforce this at EVERY establishment, be it restaurants or snack bars? It’s much easier to monitor grocery store chains.

Cookies and candy sold by non-profit groups made in America, while fortune cookies and candy made in China are exempt
Wow. This one’s really trying to tug at our heart-strings! What, now we’re going after the mommy bake sales? Oh brother, is nothing sacred? I would venture a guess that most of the cookies and candies baked by these moms and sold by non-profit groups are made from ready-made cookie dough that you just cut and bake, or from cake mixes that contain GE ingredients.  And regarding China: what control do we have over their manufacturing processes over there? Please! We can choose to not buy and eat Chinese food products if we are at all concerned about their safety. Why don’t we stop worrying about what other countries do and worry about our own?

Dog food with meat would require labeling, while meat for human consumption from animals fed GE grains are exempt
Well, I’ve said it before, most of the commercial dog food made in America is utter garbage, made with less-than desirable ingredients that humans wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. Most of the common brands (Pedigree, Purina) contain mystery ingredients we'd rather not know about, so labeling would be great. 
Frankly, I’d like to see meat for human consumption labeled, too, for the exact reason the opposition lists. Conventionally produced meat is fed GE grains and that’s too bad because it isn't as good for you as grass-fed meat, but we’ve gotta start somewhere, folks. Let’s tackle the meat and poultry debate down the road. We can’t do everything at once.

4.       Conflicts with Science (they claim there are 400 studies that say GMO’s are “safe”) – you can look to a thousand “studies” that claim there are no adverse health effects of ingesting GE foods, but it depends on who conducts the study and how it is done. I like to think of it this way: for tens of thousands of years Man has survived by eating real food in its natural state and has done just fine. Any time we create Frankenfood, fooling with Mother Nature, we risk compromising our health, because it’s just not the way Nature intended. It’s as simple as that. 

Those against Prop 37 have everything to gain by keeping people ignorant about where their food comes from. By passing this proposition, people might become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices in this era of declining health and obesity. Do we really want to live in a country where people are kept in the dark? This isn’t a country that suppresses knowledge to control its people, is it?

Their argument that those who are funding this Prop are putting profits in front of science is completely ridiculous. It's about caring about quality food! Some of California's most successful natural food companies, such as Nature’s Path, Dr. Bronner’s Soaps and Lundberg Family Farms, have naturally invested in it because they can afford to. Unfortunately, it takes money to get things done in the political system, no matter which side you're on. This is reality.

But let's look at the list of those financially supporting the No Vote (between just 2 major chemical companies, Monsanto and DuPont, they’ve invested over $12,000,000. Pepsico, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills and the Kellogg Company are right behind them)! They have a lot at stake here. If this passes they will be forced to fess up to their crap ingredients and that might be bad for the junk food business. It’s far better for them if we stay stupid, folks.

In support of Prop 37 are a number of celebrities like food writer Michael Pollan, the Slow Food movement guy I’ve written about before, Carlo Petrini, famous chefs Alice Waters, Mario Batali and Jacques Pepin, who all believe in quality food and transparency.

If anyone is to be attacked for being “deceptive”, it’s the No on Prop 37 advocates

It’s clear to me. I hope you’ll join me in voting “Yes” on Prop 37 November 6. 

For more information on California’s Right to Know, click here

For information on how to avoid eating GMO foods, I just came across this fantastic post at which you might find interesting.

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