The results from California’s November elections could hit a grocery store near you. Proposition 37 will put to the test whether or not to make California the first state in the country to require labels on products whose genes have been altered for one desired outcome or another (think: sweet corn that has been changed to be resistant to pests).
So-called GMO foods — those made from genetically modified organisms — have been declared safe by U.S. regulators. But concern persists about the unforeseen consequences of this laboratory tinkering on human health and the environment.
The outcome in California could rattle the entire U.S. food chain. An estimated 70% to 80% of processed foods sold in supermarkets could be affected, industry experts said, along with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The measure qualified for the California ballot with nearly 1 million signatures; labeling in the state could set a precedent that’s followed nationwide.
What is interesting is that most meat and dairy products, eggs, certified organic foods, alcoholic beverages and restaurant meals would be exempt. It would seem that genetically modified livestock would be just as big of an issue (if not bigger) but maybe Prop 37 is just a stepping stone to tackling the bigger, thornier issues that still remain at large.
In addition, foods could not be labeled “natural” if any of their ingredients were genetically engineered.
The initiative defines genetically engineered food as produced from a plant or animal whose biological traits contain DNA that has been manipulated in a laboratory at the cellular level. The technique was pioneered more than two decades ago to boost productivity by making crops resistant to insects, plant diseases, pesticides and herbicides. The biggest successes have been with commodities that are staples in most processed foods. Genetically engineered crops account for about 90% of U.S. corn, soybean and sugar beet production.
People want to know what is in their food, and they should have access to that information. At the same time, they demand that their food prices remain low and that they have access to seasonal items all year round. Placing labels on the produce might be a start, but there are still a number of other paradoxes eaters need to resolve; maybe this will be the first step in understanding the big picture. To be determined…