California: You Deserve to Know If GMOs Are In Your Food

Could the push to label genetically modified food finally become a national trend?

Nine out of 10 Californians agree: it's time to label genetically modified foods.
Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

The Golden State is known for leading the charge on progressive issues: Californians were the first to pave the way for an end to school segregation, to adopt cap-and-trade policies for greenhouse gas emissions, and to write mortgage settlements into law. It's no wonder then, that when it comes to what goes in their bodies, Californians are vanguards in the food movement. This week the state put prop 37 on its November ballot, a proposition that would require mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs).

MORE: 5 Certified GMO-Free Breakfast Ideas

Prop 37, or California’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, aims to make the current food system more transparent by requiring genetically modified ingredients to be labeled on food packaging. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) explains just how prevalent GMOs are:

"Currently, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as are 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). According to industry, up to 95 percent of sugar beets are now GE," says CFS. "It has been estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients."

The Right to Know campaign—an initiative driven by consumer, health, and environmental groups as well as businesses, farmers, scientists, and doctors— is based on a simple premise: "We all should be able to make informed choices, and have the ability to choose whether to buy genetically engineered food or not," says the initiative's website.

Currently, more than 40 countries (among them Japan and China, as well as all of Europe) have already implemented GMO labeling.

Supporters of the campaign—which include the Sierra Club, the American Public Health Association, United Farm Workers, the Center for Food Safety, and Food Democracy Now!—contend that adding a label about GMOs is as simple and obvious as providing other nutritional information to consumers.

Providing GMO information on food packaging isn't expected to create additional costs for consumers or companies. If passed, the proposition would allow companies 18 months to cycle out current packaging, a time frame which is in line with the typical rotation of package designs.

Critics of GMO labeling say adding such information would cause undue fear among consumers. 

With a reported 91 percent of Californians in favor of GMO labeling, however, that's not likely an issue in the most populous state in the U.S. It seems likely the proposition will pass.

Those spearheading the campaign are confident.

"Prop 37 is about our fundamental right to know what's in the food we eat and feed our children," Stacy Malkan, a spokesperson for the California Right to Know campaign, said in a Right to Know press release.

"Given the broad support in the state—and across the country—for the right to know if our food is genetically engineered, we are confident California voters will make history by passing Prop 37 in November."

What do you think? Do Americans have a right to know if foods contain genetically modified ingredients?

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