Boardman: Why marauding elk make a California GMO labeling law a bad idea | TheUnion.com
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Boardman: Why marauding elk make a California GMO labeling law a bad idea

George Boardman
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

Observations from the center stripe: Talk is cheap edition

A LOT of people complain about the antics of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, but they aren’t willing to do anything about it. The three directors up for reelection tomorrow are unopposed … HANG IN there high-speed fiber-optic Internet hopefuls: You dream will come true in five to seven years, maybe … IT’S A stretch to suggest Sheriff Keith Royal is violating the law by conducting an interview in his office just because the subject is Measure S …THIS IS what it has come to in professional sports: The Sacramento Kings promoted “One of a kind court projections and 3D EFFECTS” and “High resolution NEW LED video boards” for the season opener this week against Golden State … HERE ARE some candidates for the Darwin Awards, given to people who find really dumb ways to kill themselves: Visitors who get too close to black bears catching salmon at Lake Tahoe’s Taylor Creek Visitor Center. Never go near a hungry bear … WHEN YOU have lemons: A shopping center in Auburn has covered its green landscaping with mulch and posted the following sign: “Brown is the new green”…

California is considered a bellwether when it comes to passing “progressive” legislation (conservatives call it more meddling in their lives), which is one reason the rest of the country pays attention to what’s happening in the Golden State.

This influence tends to scare people in other states, who are afraid that what happens in California won’t stay here. That’s why the state has been sued in federal court over its new egg-laying rules, and plastic bag manufacturers are teeing up a ballot initiative to overturn the recently passed ban.

But we can’t be the leader in everything, as evidenced by the failure of a ballot measure requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods in 2012. Now Oregon is trying to become the first state to pass a labeling measure, and people on both sides of the issue believe that if it passes, it will encourage California to try again.



Oregon’s Measure 92 would require food manufacturers and retailers to put a “produced with genetic engineering” label on foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. A new state agency would be created to enforce the law, and trial lawyers could sue farmers, manufacturers or retailers who violate the strictures.

The usual suspects are making the usual arguments for and against the measure, apparently forgetting that the USDA has a certified organic program for producers whose food doesn’t contain GMOs, and the GMO Project has its own label for more than 20,000 certified products.




Some suspect this has more to do with money than protecting people’s health. Oregon’s $233 million organic farm industry “must be protected,” the initiative says, and requiring GMO labels may “create additional market opportunities” for non-GMO producers. Then there are the people who want to get rid of GMO foods entirely. The Organic Consumers Association, which has contributed $300,000 to the Yes on Measure 92 campaign, calls for a “global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops,” something that’s not likely to happen if we’re going to feed the world’s population.

Both sides concede Measure 92 will increase the cost of food (how much is a matter of debate), but the net effect will put more pressure on the food budgets of the vast middle class that has been losing ground since the 2007 recession.

What we do know for sure is that organic food is expensive with questionable benefits when it comes to health. Organic foods cost 85 percent more on average, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. But a Stanford University study found little evidence that organic foods are healthier or carry fewer health risks than nonorganics.

For that kind of money, you would think California foodies would be able to tell the difference between the two, but that isn’t the case. That’s why Assembly Bill 1871 was recently signed into law, requiring vendors at certified farmers markets to post a sign stating “We grow what we sell,” along with the name of their farm and its county.

But it’s never been easy following the righteous path in California. Chef Patrick Mulvaney, a leader of Sacramento’s farm-to-fork movement, has been catching flak for teaming up with (steel yourself) McDonald’s to stage a $100-a-head dinner to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northern California. To promote the event, Mulvaney is pictured wearing Ronald McDonald’s bulbous red shoes and holding a McDonald’s bag. He even admits to having an occasional Big Mac, french fries and Coke.

“I don’t see it as sleeping with the enemy,” Mulvaney told the Sacramento Bee. “Maybe we use (McDonald’s) as the starting point of a discussion that will bring more attention to what healthy food is and isn’t, and responsibility to feed people in a healthy manner.”

Meanwhile, the Bay Area’s supply of organic dairy products is being threatened by a herd of marauding tule elk in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin County.

The drought has made vegetation in the area scarce, and the elk are bullying the cows that forage there. Ranchers say the elk threaten their dairies’ existence because at least 30 percent of a cow’s diet must be foraged material or they lose their organic certification. (I have no idea how you actually keep track of this.) But outfits like the Center for Biological Diversity are less than sympathetic.

“The public doesn’t want these elk relocated, fenced into an exhibit, shot, sterilized or any of the other absurd proposals from ranchers who enjoy subsidized grazing privileges in our national seashore,” said a spokesman.“I think on balance cattle are eating more grass that’s supposed to be going to wildlife than the other way around.”

As you can see, California’s foodies are already grappling with several demons. The state doesn’t need a labeling law to make things any more complicated.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays in The Union.


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