Are You Getting the Truth About GMO labeling and Prop 37?
Election season is a time of information overload. Your inbox floods with emails, your mailbox fills with flyers, and billboards with aggressive messaging line major thoroughfares. Propositions, in particular, can be confusing—and Proposition 37, The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, is no exception. Prop 37 advocates adding labels to any foods that are genetically modified. The idea is that the consumer experience will be more transparent, and consumers will be able to decide for themselves whether they want to eat genetically modified foods. That hasn’t gone over too well with companies whose bottom lines depend on keeping information about the food supply hidden from the public. Those companies have thrown millions of dollars to thwart GMO labeling, upsetting the grassroots advocates who are equally invested but far less financially powerful.
California voters recently received their Official Voter Information Guide, and the rundown of the Prop 37 offered by the No on 37 Campaign provided information that seems...questionable.
Here are five of their claims about GMO labeling, and our quest for the truth behind them.
Photo: Jason Todd/Getty Images
Claim: GMO Labeling “bans…perfectly safe foods unless they’re relabeled or remade with higher cost ingredients.”
Prop 37 doesn’t ban GMO foods; it calls for them to be labeled as such. Companies that use genetically modified ingredients in their products will have the option to continue using those ingredients—just not without a label. The exact wording from the proposition, which you can read here, states the following: “The purpose of this measure is to create and enforce the fundamental right of the people of California to be fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat is genetically engineered and not misbranded as natural so that they can choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods.” Whether is the key word; foods will still have genetically modified ingredients, but consumers get to decide if they want to put those in their bodies.
Furthermore, “perfectly safe” is a term that has not been verified by any long-term studies on the effect of GMOs.
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Lie #2: The U. S. Department of Agriculture Called GMO Labeling “inherently misleading.”
This quote, attributed to a federal department, is entirely fabricated, says the Yes on Prop 37 campaign. In a letter to U.S. Department of Justice, the Yes on Prop 37 Campaign stated that “the FDA has never taken a position on Proposition 37; it would be unlawful for the agency to do so, in the general election; and the quoted statement from FDA was made in an unrelated context more than twenty years ago.” The letter also notes that “it appears that use of the agency’s seal on this mail piece is clearly fraudulent and the misuse of the seal in this way is a violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 506 and 1017 as well as applicable agency regulations.”
All Gov CA adds that “A quick search of the internet using TinEye.com turned up 2.1834 billion images of the official logo in 6.407 seconds, but independent verification of the alleged FDA quote was unsuccessful.”
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Claim: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Has “Concluded That Biotech Foods are Safe.”
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) does not take a position on GMO Labeling. In fact, following the release of the Voter Information Guide, the AND released a press statement saying that voters have received inaccurate information. "We are concerned that California's voters are being misled to believe the nation's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals is against Proposition 37, when in fact, the Academy does not have a position on the issue," said Ethan A. Bergman, a registered dietitian and president of AND.
Photo: Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images
Claim: A Founding Director in the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA backs the No on Prop 37 campaign.
Dr. Henry I. Miller, the FDA employee named in the Voter’s Information Guide, does not currently work for the FDA in any capacity. Miller was employed by the FDA from 1984 to 1997 and is a known proponent of DDT, an insecticide that was banned in the U.S. in 1972 after a wave of criticism for its health risks and environmental havoc. While he may support the No on Prop 37 efforts, his opinion does not reflect that of the FDA on GMO labeling.
Furthermore, an FDA document from 2001 located on fda.gov states that among FDA official, though opinions diverged on the regulation of biotech foods, “there was general agreement that providing more information to consumers about bioengineered foods would be useful.”
Photo: Comstock/Getty Images
Claim: GMO Labeling “Would Increase Food Costs For The Average Family By Hundreds Of Dollars Annually.”
Prop 37 phases in packaging over time, and companies are not forced to go organic. While critics of Prop 37 have said this change would pass costs onto consumers, an impartial consulting firm did a study in 2001 that determined that GMO labeling would increase annual food spending by .01 to .17 percent. At less than one percent, that amounts to about 33 cents to $5.58 in 2010 dollars (inflation adjusted) annually. In short, most families will pay about $5 more per year.
The language of the No on Prop 37 camp also alleges that companies will be forced to remake foods “with higher cost ingredients”—part of their reasoning behind the higher costs they say consumers will pay. While organic (that is, non-genetically modified) ingredients do cost more, no company will be required to use them. Companies can continue to use their same ingredients; they just have to tell the public that their ingredients contain GMOs. And changing labels is nothing new for food companies—just think of how many different bags you’ve seen in the past few years for your favorite snacks. GMO labeling is just like companies adding “Now with vitamin C!” to a package.
A sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, Megan likes writing about food almost as much as eating it. If you don't want to know what's in your fruit/milk/meat, don't invite her to lunch.@babybokchoy | TakePart.com