Drowned out by the monolithic red vs. blue political battle of this Tuesday’s election is California’s Proposition 37, which would require genetically modified foods to carry a label. Far from a partisan battle between liberal and conservative, this ballot measure pits the grassroots food movement against the biggest players in the food industry. To many, it won’t come as a surprise that food has made it’s way into the political arena. But as Michael Pollan has pointed out, this may be the moment we learn if this country’s nascent food movement has the ability to drive change and reform our food landscape.
The past 20 years has seen a growing interest in what we eat, how it’s grown, and the way it’s prepared. We all have different criteria for selecting our foods—from local and organic, to affordability and taste. But our ability to choose is only as reliable as the information we are given. Since the introduction of genetically modified organisms in our food system in 1992, a decision the FDA made over the objections of it’s own scientist, consumers in America have not been able to make a choice regarding the purchase and consumption of GMOs.
Proposition 37 is designed to restore Californians’ ability to choose what they eat. This is not an issue or referendum on the safety of GMO foods, although at Farmanac we certainly have our opinions, this is about the story of our food and a right to know where it comes from and how it arrives on our table. The requirement is quite simple: Genetically engineered foods sold in grocery stores would have to carry a label and be prohibited from being labeled “natural.” Producers would have 18 months to add the words “partially produced with genetic engineering” to their packaging.
Standing in opposition is major agribusiness, which has spent nearly $45 million (almost 6.5 times the $7.3 Million raised by the proponents of Prop 37) primarily on fear-based advertising suggesting that Prop 37 would result in higher food prices. It won’t; GMOs have been labeled throughout Europe for over a decade without any consequence. The suggestion is simply absurd when you consider food labels are often redesigned many times a year for everything from athletic sponsorships and promotions to the latest coupon deal.
But the obscene amount being spent by agribusiness (which comes from a who’s who of global food interests including Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, BASF, Bayer, and more) is just a drop in the bucket when these corporations weigh the risk of adjusting the way they do business and any potential disruption to their bottom line. The risk that consumers would react negatively when they learned of the presence of GMOs in their food is just too great, especially when 70 percent of processed food on store shelves are estimated to contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Voting 'yes' on 37 is an exclamation that we have a right to know the story behind our food, how it was grown, and how it has made it’s way into our community and our homes. If Prop 37 passes Californians will rewrite the contract between the American people and the major corporations that produce much of the food we eat. Year after year our connection to what we eat slips further away from us. And while most of us don’t grow the food we eat, all of us have a right to know how our food was grown.
Photo courtesy of McKenzie Long at Cardinal Innovative