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Proposition 37: genetically engineered food labeling


Proposition 37 is one of the most important and least understood measures on this year’s ballot.

A surprising number of people not involved in the food industry or farming are largely unaware of just how technologically advanced that farming, agriculture and the agrichemical food industry have become.

The American public needs to be aware that technological advancement in this area is often private and proprietary to the corporations developing such technology.

Adding even more to the problem is the fact that state and national governments are already sorely lacking in resources and budget for oversight in many areas.

And that is one area Prop. 37 attempts to address. The language in the measure would place the burden of oversight and enforcement on the California Department of Public Health (DPH).

Many scientists agree that the dramatic rise in diabetes in teens in recent years is largely attributed to the use of modified corn starch, which is only one example of a typical genetically modified food. Modified corn starch is now found in soda, ketchup, many fruit juices and it is used as a filler substance in many items, including meats.

The California General Election Official Voter Guide says in part that genetic engineering is the process of changing the genetic material of a living organism to produce some desired change in that organism’s characteristics. One example is to improve a plant’s resistance to pests or to allow a plant to withstand the use of pesticides.

In 2011, 88 percent of all corn and 94 percent of all soybeans produced in the United States were grown from genetically engineered seeds. The guide also says that according to some estimates, 40 to 70 percent of food products sold in grocery stores in California contain some genetically engineered ingredients.

Under current law, neither the state nor federal governments are required to regulate genetically engineered foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) and California Department of Public Health are, respectively, charged on the national and state levels for ensuring the safety and proper labeling of foods.

Prop. 37 would require labeling on raw or processed foods for sale to consumers, if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.

This measure requires that genetically engineered foods sold at retail locations be clearly labeled as genetically engineered. Specifically, the measure requires that raw foods (such as fruits and vegetables) produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering be labeled with the words “Genetically Engineered” on the front package or label. If the item is not separately packaged or does not have a label, these words must appear on the shelf or bin where the item is displayed for sale.

The measure also requires that processed foods produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering be labeled with the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Opponents say, however, that the labeling requirements exempts two-thirds of the foods that Californians consume–including milk, cheese and meats and also including products made by corporations funding the 37 campaign. It also exempts beer, wine, liquor and food sold at restaurants and other foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.