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California's GMO labeling issue draws big money

Published on October 4, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on November 1, 2012 6:32AM

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Capital Press

Millions of dollars have poured into California to fight Proposition 37, which would require labeling on raw or processed food "with genetic material changed in specific ways."

Out-of-state interests account for most of the $34.5 million contributed to encourage a "no" vote of the ballot measure.

California's own industries and individuals have poured $2.8 million into the effort to reject it, compared with $1.3 million to support it.

More than $7 million comes from Missouri, which happens to be the home of Monsanto, an international manufacturer of biotech seeds and agriculture chemicals.

"Information is good, but Prop 37 is bad policy," Monsanto spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks said. "Food labeling should be based on fact, not fear."

She said more than 400 studies on biotech, or genetically engineered, crops have been done over the past few decades, but none have found any ill effects from GE foods. The World Health Organization, National Academy of Sciences, FDA, USDA and 25 Nobel laureates support GE food safety, she said. "Labels, as outlined in Prop 37, would give people the impression something was wrong with the foods when that's not true."

But there has been no testing on human health impacts, according to Mark Kastel, co-director at The Cornucopia Institute. He said long-term animal testing in Europe has found tumors and evidence of shorter life spans.

"There are ample reasons to be cautious," he said. "To suggest it's safe and introduce into our food system is outrageous.

"The issue is: Do consumers have the right to know what's in their food? I say yes, whether it's artificial preservatives, sugar or a life-threatening allergic reaction."

Despite the unbalanced dollar contributions, at least one survey seems to indicate that California voters have made up their minds already, a month before Election Day.

Marc Lifsher, a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, described a poll conducted by his newspaper and the University of Southern California that showed a more than 2-to-1 margin in favor of labeling GMO foods.

"That is in line with polls taken nationally from the first of the year," he said. "There was a 90 percent favorable response."

Lifsher said fear may play a part in voters' reactions. "When they're told this about their right to know what's in their food, about whether it's GMO, it makes some scared. There's a very strong gut reaction."

The big money coming from out-of-state industries reflects how California tends to be a bellwether for the nation. "A similar initiative in Oregon failed a few years back, but we have a more sophisticated process for passing initiatives here," he said.

If Proposition 37 is enacted by voters, it can only be refined, not revoked. Section 10 of the initiative reads: "This initiative may be amended by the Legislature, but only to further its intent and purpose, by a statute passed by a two-thirds vote in each house."


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