California’s Office of the Secretary of State announced on Monday that the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, also known as the GMO labeling initiative, will appear on voter ballots as Proposition 37 for the November 6 elections.
If passed, Prop. 37 would make California the first state in the U.S. to require labeling of most foods made with genetically modified organisms — those given specific changes to their DNA through genetic engineering techniques.
Polls conducted by various organizations in recent years have found that roughly 90 percent of Californians support labeling for genetically engineered (GE) foods. But regardless of the polls, leaders of California’s GE labeling movement are still preparing for a fight on the road to election day.
“We certainly have huge support, but we’re not taking anything for granted. There’s a big effort to fight it and we’re worried about the money that will be put toward that effort,” California Right to Know campaign spokeswoman Stacy Malkan told Food Safety News.
GE labeling is already law in nearly 50 countries, including China, Japan and each European state. Alaska requires labeling of GE fish and shellfish, making it the only U.S. state with any type of GE labeling law.
Earlier this year, three-quarters of U.S. Senators rejected a federal GE labeling bill. Nearly 20 states have had similar bills turned down in congress in the past year.
Most major food corporations oppose GE labeling, citing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirement that GE ingredients be labeled if they’re determined to exhibit a difference in nutritional value or level of safety.
Malkan said the Right to Know campaign does not hope to ban or eliminate GE foods from the market, but operates on the belief that consumers should simply be able to know whether their food was genetically engineered.
“People want to know what’s in their food and the information shouldn’t be kept from consumers,” she said. “We get to know all the nutritional facts, allergy information, where it comes from, but we can’t know if it’s genetically engineered?”
The Right to Know campaign collected nearly 1 million signatures for the initiative, virtually doubling California’s 550,000-signature requirement. Malkin attributed the level of response to an army of volunteer petitioners.
Others who oppose GE labeling say that consumers want to avoid GE foods out of fear of the unknown, despite the proven benefits such as increased crop yields and better resistance to pests. The Grocery Manufacturers Association calls GE labels unnecessary and potentially confusing to consumers who might perceive the label as an indication of a risk.
The next four months, Malkan said, will pit consumers against corporations in a public relations slugfest. And if the measure passes, it could affect food labeling well beyond California: Supporters predict food makers will want to avoid making separate labels for California and simply choose to change their labels for the entire U.S.© Food Safety News