Prop. 37 raises questions of food labeling in Calif.

October 25, 2012 10:21:57 AM PDT
One of the propositions Californians will be asked to vote on this November is Prop. 37. While backers of the proposition say residents have the right to know whether what you eat has been genetically modified, opponents say it's an unnecessary expense that will drive up the cost of food.

In a greenhouse at U.C. Davis, Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center, is working to develop a lettuce seed that will germinate in hot weather. He says a colleague is trying to produce rice that's better able to withstand draught and salt water, noting, "The difference it could make is enormous when you look at the global situation." According to Bradford, manipulating the genetic material in plants can help us cope with global warming and rising sea levels, "We really need these tools to be able to keep up."

Bradford fears Prop. 37's requirement of a label on genetically modified foods will scare consumers. He says it could also set back corporations that fund university research, "Fifteen years over 90 percent of our soybeans 88 percent of our corn canola oil we eat has all been produced using genetic engineering and no one has ever gotten sick in any documented way related to that."

Bradford calls Proposition 37 an unnecessary burden. But supporters say it's a right to know, "This proposition takes the decision to the California voter, lets them decide," said Dave Murphy with Food Democracy Now. Murphy, a spokesman for Prop 37, says it's pretty simple, "If they're proud of their products they should put a label on it."

That's what Calgene did with their Flavr Savr tomato in the early 1990's. Former Calgene employee Belinda Martineau showed ABC7 News one of the labels, "We had some opposition, but once the tomato made it to the grocery stores they flew off the shelves." Martinuau describes herself as a trained molecular geneticist and says she supports Prop 37, "That's how capitalism works right. You have your new, improved variety of something and you want to tell people about it."

But the way the Yes on 37 Campaign is telling people about genetically modified foods, is to bring up past assurances that cigarette smoking, DDT, and even Agent Orange were nothing to worry about, "To use a health and safety issue or a food safety issue to try to promote this, I find really disturbing from just the point of view of the science and the facts," Bradford said.

Ads opposed to Prop 37 point out the labeling would apply only to some products. Restaurant food, cheese, and meat from animals that have eaten genetically modified feed are all exempt, "The real intent of this initiative is not to label everything in the food system it's to actually to provide basic information on the products that contain the most genetically engineered ingredients," Murphy said.

The Yes on 37 Campaign points to Europe, where GMO labeling is required, and asks why Californians can't have that same right. Well this year BASF, a German chemical company, announced it is ceasing production of genetically modified crops for the European market. The reason -- nobody's buying them.

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