OFW Law founding principal Richard L. Frank fills in for former USDA Secretary John R. Block on John Block Reports.
On Election Day, California voters will decide on another food labeling ballot initiative, one that is being watched intently by the food industry. If it passes, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, popularly known as Prop 37, would require genetically engineered foods to be prominently labeled as such and prohibit any processed food from being labeled as “natural” even if it is not genetically engineered. As with many ballot initiatives in California, Prop 37 is superficially appealing yet counter-productive from both a policy and economic standpoint.
Supporters of Prop 37 rely on the tried-and-true argument of the “consumer right to know.” Asking Californians whether they want GMOs labeled is like asking a suburbanite “would you like a rose in your garden?” Obviously, everyone wants a rose for their garden and, unfortunately, many Californians will mindlessly support mandatory GMO labeling.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration establishes labeling requirements for foods nationwide. FDA requires all ingredients to be labeled and insists on special labeling if there are food safety or allergen concerns or other material facts that consumers need to know about an ingredient or product. FDA studied the question and has ruled, correctly, that crops produced through genetic modification do not require special labeling or attention.
Selective breeding and hybridization, first discovered by Gregor Mendel in the mid-1800s, have allowed farmers to produce many of today’s heartier, insect-resistant, more nutritious, and organoleptically desirable crops. GMOs, first introduced in 1995, are not much different from products produced by selective breeding. Instead of crossing two desirable genes from a pea, GMOs introduce a gene from a different species (for example, a fish) which enable a vegetable to be more weed or pest-resistant. New seeds like Monsanto’s DraughtGard® will help protect tomorrow’s most precious resource, water, and promote food security.
17 years later, GMOs appear safe and are dramatically contributing to food security and environmental protection. The concerns raised by the naysayers – those espousing the Draconian European “precautionary principle” – have not been realized. Non-scientific restrictions, including pejorative or scary labeling, of GMO crops are not warranted.
Vote NO on Proposition 37. Even the L.A. Times, never a bastion of moderate thinking, has come out against this ballot initiative. Unique labels for the California market will raise havoc in the food industry. If folks want to buy products that don’t contain GMOs, look for the “organic” label.