Proposition 37 and GMO Foods: Yea or Nay?

On November 6th, those of us who live in California will get to vote on Proposition 37, which requires mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods (GMO).

And the whole country is watching.

It’s shaping up to be quite the battle. A quick glance at who’s supporting the bill and who’s against it should tell you a lot.

Supporters include

  • Joe Mercola
  • the Organic Consumers Fund
  • Nature’s Path Foods
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps
  • Clif Bar and Co.
  • Annie’s.

Opponents include

  • Monsanto
  • Dupont
  • Pepsico
  • DOW
  • Kraft Foods
  • Coca-Cola
  • Nestle
  • General Mills
  • Kellogs

Questions, anyone?

The issue of GMO has been a perplexing one, and not nearly as simple as people on both sides of the fence try to make it. People have been selectively breeding crops and animals for ages (how do you think we have jumbo roses, or Boston Terriers, or uniformly red tomatoes?) And there are honest, well-meaning scientists who are trying to solve massive problems like vitamin deficiencies in third world countries using GMO techniques. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences, for example, have created a strain of “golden” rice that contains an unusually high amount of beta-carotene (vitamin A), and hopes to offer the golden rice seed free to any third world country that requests it.

So genetic modification—all things being equal—is not always evil. Whether it’s used for good or for avarice depends on who’s using it.

That said, there is little to no evidence that Big Food can be trusted to use the available technology for anything other than increasing their bottom line. They’ll make a lot of noise about how GMO foods are pest resistant, and drought tolerant, and how that’s so important in producing enough food to feed a world population that’s expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

And they’ll spend untold millions trying to convince you that GMO foods are no different from their non GMO counterparts, and millions more lobbying to keep measures like Prop 37 from passing. According to the Wall Street Journal, Kraft, Coca Cola and Monsanto and their cohorts have poured more than 40 million bucks into a campaign to persuade us to reject Proposition 37 on November 6th.

I think that would be a huge mistake.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations has put together a terrific webpage outlining the main arguments against GMOs. These include the fact that genes can end up in unexpected places and can mutate with harmful effect. There can be a tremendous impact on birds, insects and soil. There can be transfer of allergenic genes. (One allergenic Brazil-nut gene was transferred into a soybean variety and not discovered till the testing phase.) And genetic engineering has the potential to make ordinary foods toxic to some people.

The dairy industry fought mightily to prevent manufacturers from labeling their milk with “no rBGH”. Why? Because they thought it would “confuse” consumers into thinking that bovine growth hormone was a “bad” thing. (This is the part where we all roll our eyes.) Now Big Food is doing the same thing with GMOs.

Don’t let them get away with it.

There are reasonable arguments to be made for GMO foods, just as there are reasonable arguments to be made against them.

But there’s no reasonable argument to be made against letting people know what it is they’re eating, so that they can make an informed decision about what to buy and what not to buy.

Information is only the enemy if you’ve got something to hide.

If Big Food wants to convince us that their GMO foods are safe, I’m willing to hear the arguments. Bring ‘em on.

But you don’t win arguments by keeping people in the dark.

Keeping us in the dark may increase the bottom line for your stockholders, but it sure doesn’t increase my confidence in you.