Proposition 37 received a lot of attention in the past few months and affects all California residents. This proposition would require labeling on processed or raw food sold to consumers if it has been made with genetically modified material.
Whether for or against Proposition 37, it’s indisputable that the proposition is bringing a lot of attention to the discussion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the consumer’s right to know.
“It’s bringing to the forefront a lot of the issues about food and genetic engineering that we have been kind of playing with on the margins,” agribusiness associate professor Neal MacDougall said.
The major points of disagreement stem not from the consumer’s right to a basic knowledge about what they consume, but from the structure of the proposition itself.
Some opponents of the proposition attack the ban on the word “natural” to describe genetically modified foods.
However, foods certified organic are exempt from this requirement. In fact, some of the largest supporters of the proposition are the Organic Consumers Fund, Nature’s Path Foods and Mercola Health Resources.
On the other side of the proposition are large corporations such as Coca-Cola Co., Nestle USA and General Mills Inc.
“It is something that divides the agriculture industry because you have the certified organic viewpoint of it,” agricultural communication senior and editor-in-chief of AgCircle Jennifer Ray said. “And then you have the conventional side and how that affects those growers.”
The economic effects of the proposition on smaller producers also play a part in the discussion.
“These additional mandated labeling costs would hurt small local agricultural producers much more than larger corporations,” agricultural business sophomore Peter Delle said.
However, it would only impact small producers and growers if they are actually using GMOs in their food products.
“I would think that for a lot of these small producers who are using local products, the chances of them using a GMO product are lower than if they were a national manufacturer,” MacDougall said.
Another complaint about the proposition is that it is not extensive enough because it exempts milk and dairy, alcohol and meat industries from its regulations.
“Consumers still would not have a clear answer as to what is genetically modified, directly because of the exemptions,” Delle said.
These exemptions are rooted in the single-subject rule which states that ballot initiatives and legislation may deal with only one issue. Alcohol is regulated under different laws than food at both the state and federal level. Meat and dairy products would only be labeled if the product comes from a genetically-engineered animal, not from an animal who eats genetically-engineered food.
The consequences relating to the price of food are another economic consideration. Consumers would ultimately pay the price for the cost of changing the labels. This could directly impact the selling of California products outside of the state because they would be more expensive than food products grown in an unregulated state.
If the proposition passes, California would be the first state in the U.S. to regulate the labeling of food products containing GMOs.
“California tends to be at the forefront of a lot of these regulatory approaches, and not just in respect to food,” MacDougall said.
The implications of Proposition 37 could lead to a larger national discussion about the role of GMOs in food production. More state legislators could add GMOs to their agenda because of citizen concern.
“If enough states do it, there will be a lot of pressure from groceries and large food companies for a single standard,” MacDougall said.