I am a citizen of the great state of California. One of the best/worst things about California is that each election cycle, we’re bombarded with propositions (and not the sexy kind). These propositions, while truly energizing as far as making people feel like their vote really counts, are a headache and a half. But why am I talking about California propositions for a mostly non-California readership? Well, because one of the propositions, Prop 37, allows me to tap into a growing conversation about GMOs, and because what happens with Prop 37 could have implications for the whole country.
Proposition 37 seeks to label foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These foods would be prohibited from bearing the label “natural.” Labeling would not be required on all foods; exceptions include foods that are: “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.”
If Prop 37 passes, this labeling would take effect immediately, and would cost the state quite a bit of money to implement. But the state wouldn’t be the only one facing some costs: producers of GMO food products would find themselves in the position of either making special packaging for California, or using the same, California required labeled packaging for the entire US. Policy analysts suggest that those companies may be forced to implement GMO labeling across the United States, which would have huge impacts for agriculture, food service, and regulation throughout the country.
While I support the idea that people should be allowed to know about their food, and while I absolutely have huge reservations about many of the actions of large agribusiness (I’m looking at you and your horrible intellectual property lawsuits, Monsanto), I find myself unable to support Prop 37, mostly because the GMOs we have right now are safe and sometimes even very beneficial.
Proposition 37 hinges on the idea that GMO foods are somehow different or worse than other food. The only thing that a GMO sticker would tell the consumer is that GMOs were used in the food product – there would be no information about the type of GMO, no information about the company that produced the GMO, and no information about any other step in the agricultural process. For this labeling to be meaningful, GMO on its own must be meaningful.
It’s not. The weight of the evidence on whether or not there is a link between GMOs and negative health impacts falls on the side of there being no link. Overall, there is no evidence that genetically modified food is worse for the consumer than non-genetically modified food. Even genetically modified foods that have been made more herbicide or pest-resistant show no evidence for negatively affecting human health. For a more detailed explanation of that process, please follow this link to Michael Eisen’s detailed explanation.
Different types of agriculture will have different environmental and economic impacts, and I support efforts to allow people to make informed decisions about what they eat. Yet those concerns, and the concerns about large agri-business must be separated from the discussion of the safety of GMOs. The general public absolutely should question science and push scientists to respond to their concerns. Now, decades of research show some strong evidence that genetically modified foods do not show links with negative health affects, and it is time to move the conversation further. How do GMOs fit in the agricultural landscape of the future? Can they be used to reduce the number of pesticides, many of which have been shown to have significant negative health affects? Can they be used to allow us to adapt to a changing climate? Just because the current GMOs are safe doesn’t mean all GMOs have to be safe – how can we ensure proper regulation and testing of future GMOs? And how can we make sure that farmers are still in control of their farms?
The GMO debate must shift.