Prop. 37: Should Genetically Modified Food Get Labeled?

Backers say people have the right to know. Critics say the cost is too high and hurts small farmers.

What’s the harm in a simple label? It depends on whom you ask.

Proposition 37 would make California the first state in the union to require that certain plant or animal products sold be labeled if its genetic material has been modified. The law would also make it illegal for food companies to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as “natural.”

Supporters of the Nov. 6 ballot measure say it’s just a label that will allow people to decide whether they want to eat genetically modified food. But opponents call the label unnecessary, and capable of injecting bureaucratic hurdles and billions in costs for businesses and consumers.

“Labeling is the strongest way to push products out,” said Carisa Torres, who protested in front of the Davis Monsanto office early this year. She said that some European countries have begun labeling GMOs and consumption has dropped as a result. 

“Are you not proud of your product?” she added. “Why hide it?”

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office said that since GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, a vast majority of corn and soybean grown in the United States is genetically modified. According to some estimates, 40 percent to 70 percent of food found in grocery stores is genetically engineered.

Labeling would be regulated by the Department of Public Health, but retailers would be responsible for ensuring products are compliant with the law.

The government or private citizens will be able to file lawsuits that do not require demonstrating any damage was caused as a result of not labeling food.

The analyst’s office estimates that putting 37 into effect would cost “a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually.”

No specific estimates on costs associated with litigation are offered by the office, but it concluded “these costs are not likely to be significant in the longer run.”

Opponents of Prop. 37 believe labels could cost a lot more than the price of a sticker.

A study paid for by the “No on 37” campaign estimates that when lawsuits and other expenses are considered, the new law could cost more than $5 billion, and up to $400 annually for an average family.

Backers of Prop. 37 say retailers just need to follow the law, and voters shouldn’t be discouraged by scare tactics.

A poll conducted at the end of September found that 76.8 percent of Californians plan to vote “yes” on 37, with 71 percent stating their primary reason was because “people have the right to know what is in their food.”

Nearly half of all people who took the poll conducted by University of Oklahoma agricultural economists said they changed their vote from yes to no when they heard about potential increases in food costs.

Another poll found that more than 60 percent of Californians support Prop. 37.

Contrary to public opinion, editorial boards at more than 30 newspapers statewide have urged Californians to vote no on Prop. 37.

“No” on 37 votes may rise before Election Day as opponents inject millions of dollars into the race with help from big makers of  pesticides and genetically engineered seeds like Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer.

By the end of September, the “No on 37” campaign raised nearly $35 million.

In contrast, the “Yes on 37” campaign, California Right to Know, raised about $4 million by the end of September. Despite a wide spending gap, the Yes on Prop. 37 campaign has garnered support from celebrities like Dave Matthews and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia stars Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito.

Both campaigns have been criticized for bending the truth or trying to scare the public, said the San Jose Mercury News.

California Right to Know cited a recent study by a French scientist that has been widely criticized and called insufficient by European food safety officials. It concluded that rats who eat Monsanto GMO corn have a higher rate of tumors and organ damage.

The study paid for by the “No on 37” campaign claims billions in costs, but assumes GMO food would be replaced with organic ingredients.

If approved, Proposition 37 would take effect in 2014.

Yes on 37 arguments:

  • Labels mean you know if your food was genetically engineered.
  • No current studies rule out health risks from eating GMOs. Labels would make it easier for people to choose to protect their families from afflictions some doctors say GMO lead to, including allergies and other health risks.
  • GMO labels are already a requirement in more than 40 countries, including Japan, China, India and European Union nations.

No on 37 arguments:

  • Labeling the majority of foods sold as GMO would be a logistical nightmare that would pump higher costs and government bureaucracy into people’s lives.
  • Reputable public health groups like the World Health Organization and National Academy of Sciences have determined there are no health risks in eating genetically engineered food.
  • Foods that receive an exemption from labels are special interests
  • Lawsuits could have serious economic impact and become a hidden food tax.
  • Prop. 37 could hurt small farmers.

What do you think of Prop. 37? Tell us in the comments.


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Lanny Chase October 15, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Yes, without a doubt.
John B October 15, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Had to laugh at the massive "vote NO" postcard I received in the mail last week. It was half the size of a movie marquee and basically stated how much money a year this new prop will cost annually, assuming I don't buy organic foods (which I do). All I could think about was how much they spent to make this full color poster card. I'm voting yes!
Gary Goss October 15, 2012 at 04:35 PM
I'm one of those who call for the redistribution of information. Let's take the extra information from those who horde it, and then let's spread it around to those who need it.
Alaria Sands October 15, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Some of the biggest multi-national players in the agrochemical, biotech & food sectors have blown into CA with a warchest of $35 million to defeat Prop 37 . . . and somehow you want the public to believe they are doing this as a public service to help consumers avoid higher food costs, lawsuits and loopholes? The lack of labeling in the USA has actually performed as a hidden price support for GMO foods, which sell for less on the world commodities markets than non-GMO crops- there is no consumer demand for GMO foods. In Europe these crops are used almost exclusively for animal feed, and therefore sell for less. It they were labeled USA companies would no longer be able to slip lower cost GMO ingredients into foods (at ever increasing percentages) and charge the same. Labeling would blow this little racket out of the water. The financial backers of the No on 37 group (Monsanto, Dow, Pepsi, Nestle) stand to lose money & market share with labeling. The only reason transgenic food is selling in the USA is due to the lack of transparency that no labels provide, and they would not back any form of labeling regardless of the wording or exceptions because they are protecting their artificial price support that invisible GMO's in our food provide. They will sell much less once GMO's are labeled and they know this. The price to consumers of avoiding GMO's will actually go down, because instead of buying organics they will be able to buy non-GMO conventional food. Yes on 37
Renee Leap October 16, 2012 at 01:41 PM
GMO vs. non-GMO crops is not the biggest issue for us in California. A huge producer could plant non-GMO crops and still abuse the land with heavy use of chemical pesticides and herbicides to increase productivity. The combination of using huge amounts of chemicals with deeper and deeper pumping of water is resulting in the widespread build-up of salt on the land. In short, our factory farm system is causing desertification, which means we are destroying the most fertile farm land in the nation. And 85% of our farm land is owned by "factory farmers." The GMO issue is the tip of the iceberg.


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