California Proposition 37 will appear on voter ballots Nov. 6.
If approved, the proposition would legally require the labeling of food sold to consumers that is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
Those in favor of the proposition categorize the law as an obvious step to give consumers more knowledge and ownership of their food selection, while the opposition says the law would significantly increase food costs and government bureaucracy and will pave the way for frivolous and expensive lawsuits.
“I hope it passes,” said Tim Van Wagner, a farmer who grows crops in Nevada County. “It seems like a no-brainer. I think people have a right to know about the ingredients in their food.”
Amanda Thibodeau, director of the Food Love Project, which educates area youth about the practice of farming, said she also would like to see the proposition pass.
“In other countries, labeling is required,” she said.
Increasingly, large agriculture businesses make use of crops that are genetically engineered to resist certain forms of pesticides.
For instance, Monsanto introduced the world’s first commercial strain of genetically engineered soybeans.
The company used the Roundup Ready gene, which has since been patented, which made the plants resistant to the herbicide, allowing farmers to spray Roundup whenever they wanted rather than wait until the soybeans had grown enough to withstand the chemical, according to the Associated Press.
Farmers acknowledge the agricultural innovation has increased profits and production for farmers. However, health concerns have been raised as studies, such as the one published by the International Journal of Biological Sciences, found that rats that ingested genetically modified corn were subject to significant amounts of organ toxicity.
"I know companies that use genetically modified seeds claim they produce more and that they are more nutritious," Thibodeau said. "If that's the case, then why wouldn't companies want to label them?"
John Tecklin, owner of Mountain Bounty Farms, said he is in favor of the proposition passing, more for its ability to raise awareness relating to genetically altered agricultural materials than the specific law.
Tecklin said organic farmers are increasingly concerned their crops will be pollinated by plants with genetic alterations, contaminating their crops and compromising their ability to sell certified organic food.
“This is a huge issue for us, and hopefully, this proposition will help create awareness,” Tecklin said.
Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for No on 37, said the proposition “is not just a simple labeling measure.”
“This proposition was written by a trial lawyer for the benefit of other trial lawyers,” Fairbanks said.
Those suing do not have to prove the food in question has genetically altered material, and lawyers can file suits against grocers, food producers and even farmers.
“There is no testing or research that needs to be performed prior to filing suit,” Fairbanks said. “It just sets up an environment for predatory shake-down lawsuits that may target mom-and-pop grocery stores.”
The law could increase household grocery bills by as much as $350 to $400 annually, as many food companies will be averse to including genetically engineered material and will use more expensive ingredients as a result, she said.
The law would also exempt foods like meat, poultry, cheese and alcohol, Fairbanks said.
“I think it’s a strange law if it mandates labeling dog food and not meat products,” Fairbanks said.
Thibodeau said much of the rhetoric disseminated by the opposition to the proposition is scare tactics.
“The other side is just grasping at straws,” she said. “In other countries, this is a non-issue.”
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4239.
“It seems like a no-brainer. I think people have a right to know about the ingredients in their food.”\n
— Tim Van Wagner, Nevada County farmer