Have you seen the bumper stickers for Prop 37? Maybe you’re in the habit of reading ingredient labeling and have wondered what “Non-GMO” meant? GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Usually, these genetically modified food crops are developed to resist drought, better tolerate pesticides or produce a higher yield at harvest time. So what is all the hoopla about? These all sound like great things for those of us who rely on a commercial food supply 7 days a week, 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. You’ve probably even been consuming foods that are genetically modified on a daily basis without knowing it. Depending on who you ask this either very undesirable or nothing to sneeze at.
How Does Proposition 37 Define Genetically Modified Organisms?
The full text of Prop 37 defines Genetically Modified organisms as,
“(1) “Genetically engineered” means any food that is produced from an organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been changed through the application of: (A) In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or (B) Fusion of cells, including protoplast fusion, or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, where the donor cells/protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic family, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination.”
After learning about this Richie and I both wondered if this is how grapes and watermelons are made to be seedless, or as I like to call them “less seedy”. Apparently, these common fruits are coaxed into near seedless-ness through two naturally occurring, yet unfortunate circumstances in the fruit world. Fruits are essentially ovaries. Sometimes the ovaries are barren and sometimes there is a spontaneous abortion. These two naturally occurring situations can then be taken advantage of to propagate varieties of fruit which have fewer seeds.
In contrast, the type of methods used to genetically engineer other food crops, is much more complicated than making a fruit less seedy. The proposition text goes on to outline the variety of ways an organism can be genetically modified. The ways an organism can be genetically modified
“include, but are not limited to, recombinant DNA or RNA techniques that use vector systems and techniques involving the direct introduction into the organisms of hereditary materials prepared outside the organisms such as micro-injection, macro-injection, chemoporation, electroporation, micro-encapsulation, and liposome fusion.”
My degree is definitely not in Microbiology, but the nerd in me had to at least attempt to wrap my brain around what these methods were. To the best of my abilities I understand that these methods include getting desirable genes (drought tolerant, pesticide/herbicide resistant or higher yield ratios) to break through cellular walls in various ways which include the use of a machine called a “Gene Gun”, through microscopic needles, encapsulation in lipids, by bacterial host, heat shock or through soap-like solutions (saponins). So basically, this is some advanced stuff that goes down in a laboratory.
Does your head hurt yet?
What Do Proponents of Prop 37 Tout?
The following points have been extracted from http://www.CARightToKnow.org
- We have a right to know what is in our foods and how they are produced.
- GMO’s have not been proven to be safe and are still experimental. Growing research suggests that they actually might be linked to allergies and organ toxicity.
- There is currently no governmental safety studies on GMO’s and they are not regulated by the FDA (although the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have called for this).
- GMO’s contribute to environmental problems such as loss of biodiversity (due to a monopoly-like situation created by patents being granted on GMO seeds), increased use of pesticides in general, the emergence of pesticide-resistant “super weeds” and the unintentional contamination of non-GMO organic crops (Food Inc. is a great documentary which discusses many of these concerns).
What Do Opponents of Prop 37 Argue?
The following points have been extracted from http://www.noprop37.com.
- Prop 37 conflicts with science.
- Prop 37 is full of special interest loopholes and exemptions.
- Prop 37 means more bureaucracy and taxpayer costs.
- Prop 37 authorizes shakedown lawsuits.
- Prop 37 means higher food costs.
My Take On All Of This
You should know up front that I am slightly biased on this matter.
I have a son with a peanut allergy and I have a couple of food intolerances myself. So the growing research linking GMO’s to allergies is fascinating to me. I also get asked often, why children in other countries do not have the rising rate of food allergies that developed nations do. Before learning about GMOs I would dutifully quote the answer given in my Peanut Allergy Handbook – something about developing nations’ gene pools being exposed over a longer period of time to the most common food allergens (peanuts, soy, wheat, milk, eggs and dairy). It always seemed a bit vague to me and now I can’t help but entertain the possibility that underdeveloped nations who are not using GMO’s might have dodged a bullet in this area. Time and more research will be key.
Unfortunately, the small amount of research that exists on GMO’s does not point to GMO’s being safe.
To claim that Prop 37 conflicts with science simply because the technology of genetically engineering food has been used for a while now is non-sequitor. We are just barely breaking ground in studying the effects of GMO’s on human health and the environment. Length of time in use does not equal safety. The No On 37 campaign has a large burden of proof in this area.
I do believe we should be able to find out where our food comes from and how it is produced.
This is often easier said than done. (Entire books have been written on this subject.) Did we forfeit our right to know how our food is grown by depending on corporations for the convenience of eating food we did not grow? I believe we did to some extent. I find it troublesome however, that in such an advanced technological age one cannot get this kind of info as easily as an Amazon product review. Making a law regarding this seems to make a lot of sense in order to close the information gap. And it also makes a lot of sense to accomplish this in the same manner that we now monitor calories, vitamins, nutrients and allergens (through labeling and packaging which is the standard way companies relay information about their products).
What about the loopholes that the No On 37 campaign claims exist?
I was the most uninformed on this point and was eager to understand the exemptions. The CARightToKnow.org site explains these in a very understandable way.
Some examples are:
- Food Served In A Restaurant- This doesn’t normally come served to you in a package, and legally is not already required be labeled. Most restaurants already happily accommodate individuals with questions pertaining to allergy, food preparation and diet concerns. And you can be assured that restaurants whose focus is serving non-gmo (organic) foods will proudly display that on their menu’s and websites.
- Meat, cheese, dairy and eggs from animals – Animals whose genes have been genetically modified and are used to produce meat, cheese, dairy and eggs WILL be labeled. Unfortunately, animals whose feed contains GMO’s will not be labeled. This is a let down for those who are concerned with what farm animals are fed and how it affects human health. I would rather have a little progress than none at all though. If you can afford to be that choosy about your meat, then you are most likely buying it from a local farmer or co-op who will provide you information about their farming practices.
- Dog Food & Alcohol – While dog food is regulated by the FDA, alcohol is not. So Dog food will be labeled while alcohol will not be. By working within an already established governmental framework this exemption helps to avoid creating additional bureaucracy.
Will This Cause Certain Foods To Be Banned, My Grocery Bill To Increase or More Bureaucracy?
Companies who produce food and beverages using GMO’s will continue to do so. Nothing is being banned and consumers will still have the choice of buying those foods and beverages. The proposition simply calls for information to added to a label.
If passed it will go into effect by July 1st, 2014. This is more than ample time for companies to change their labeling as inventory turns over. In fact changing labeling is something that large manufacturers regularly do. It’s a normal operating cost. Think about that the next time you pass that clearance bin full of Halloween candy, or sodas advertising a major sweepstakes in promotion of a summer blockbuster at your local grocery store.
Similar predictions about food costs increasing were also made in other countries who have required GMO labeling and they were found to be unfounded.
“When the current labeling regime … was introduced in 1997, it did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) prediction of some interests. Similarly, when Norway introduced its current labelling regime (similar to the one now proposed), it did not provoke any price increase or disruption in trade.” David Byrne, then-European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Parliament
Which brings us to other ways that this proposition could cause grocery prices to rise. Manufacturers may find that their sales will go down because people have become more aware of the concerns over GMO’s and will begin to select non-gmo products. Non-GMO products already cost more!!! But that is a cost you can control. And on a positive note, if demand does go up for non-gmo products then those companies will hopefully gain more economy of scale and their prices may go down a bit. To claim that consumers will stop buying GMO products if they are suddenly made aware it is in fact a GMO product, betrays manufacturer’s confidence in the consumer’s ability to make decisions for themselves.
Will there be more bureaucracy created in order to monitor this change? Based on the wise structuring of this proposition to work within existing governmental framework and the power it would give to individuals to bring suit against companies who are not complying with the GMO labeling, I believe that there will be very little governmental expense associated with this change. Why would manufacturers choose not to comply? It would be foolish. Manufacturers will comply with Prop 37 the same way they complied with adding allergy information and labeling trans fats. The same entity who monitors food labeling will continue to do so.
What’s The Bottom Line On Prop 37?
Manufacturers are concerned that an informed public will no longer choose to buy GMO products because a label will suddenly inform them of something they were previously unaware of. About 2/3 of the products in your local grocery store stand to be affected by this proposition. There is no other reason why major manufacturers would spend millions of dollars to fund a No On 37 campaign. While some consumer’s purchasing behavior may be swayed by this information, some will not. At the very least, this proposition will have more people thinking about GMO’s.