Proposition 37, which involves labeling genetically modified food, will heavily affect California’s agriculture industry if passed this November, according to students and instructors from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.
Proposition 37 is more complicated than simply making sure genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at grocery stores are labeled. If the proposition passes, foods containing any genetically modified ingredients must be labeled as such, and cannot be marketed as “natural.” Exceptions are included for meat, alcohol, certified organic foods and other various reasons.
Opponents of the proposition argue it is not written well.
“There’s an important clarification that I think needs to be made, because everybody’s all up in arms about the right to know what’s in their food,” agricultural education and communication professor Scott Vernon said. “Philosophically, I’m not opposed to that; I think that’s healthy to know that. The problem is the bill itself.”
Vernon said the bill does not make sense for the agriculture industry because it would cause not only unnecessary expenses for agricultural companies, but could also open doors to legal issues.
“Then the gates are opened for people who may have mislabeled their food,” Vernon said. “And you have to go way back in the food chain. It may be somewhere back in the food chain where GMOs got into this product. Now all of a sudden you can sue all the way back down the line, all the way to the grower themselves.”
Vernon also questioned why people are concerned about GMOs in the first place. He blamed this fear of genetic modification on a lack of knowledge.
“I believe people are illiterate about science, and they tend not to trust what they don’t know,” he said.
Agribusiness professor Wayne Howard echoed this argument.
“For a science that’s so dependent on science and technology, it’s amazing how ignorant people are of science and technology,” Howard said. “I don’t have concerns about GMOs.”
Students also have issues with the proposition. Agriculture and environmental plant sciences senior Zach Weimortz compared the double standards evident in the bill to almond production.
“Personally I feel that it has double standards against, for example, almonds,” Weimortz said. “Almonds are a natural product which are usually eaten roasted and not raw, but when they’re roasted, under that prop they’re going to be considered not natural and they can’t be labeled as natural. It’s lying, it’s still natural.”
The idea of a standard for “natural” food is at the core of Proposition 37. The bill is backed in part by organic food companies, which Vernon claims is why certified organic food is exempt from labeling.
“You have to understand who’s behind this bill, who’s for it: the organic side to the industry,” Vernon said. “And certainly that’s going to benefit them because they’re not going to have the same expenses.”
The expenses the bill would create for food companies are another issue those opposed to the proposition have.
“It’s naive to think that the companies themselves are going to absorb all that cost,” Vernon said. “They’re going to pass it right along to the consumer, and so there’s a good indication that your food costs will go up.”
Food science senior Juan Beltran also had a problem with the way the proposition would affect business.
“Labeling something as genetically modified turns people away, and I think it’s just bad business,” Beltran said.
Some students, however, are more forgiving of Proposition 37. Agribusiness senior Nick Allen said he can see the benefits in its effect on the agricultural industry.
“I feel like it would be good just to get attention out to Monsanto,” Allen said. “They can attack smaller farmers and I don’t think that’s right. I’m just kind of on the fence about it.”