Article update: Proposition 37 failed. Just under 47% of Californians voted "yes" and slightly over 53% "no." GMO foods sold in California will not require special labeling.
On Tuesday, in addition to picking the US President, California voters will decide whether genetically modified food sold in the state needs to be labeled. Proposition 37 states that, "Any food offered for retail sale in California is misbranded if it is or may have been entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and that fact is not disclosed." It does provide exemptions, though, for food that is "certified organic," that an "independent organization has determined" is not produced from genetically engineered seed, that is "made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material," is "processed food containing less than 0.5% of genetically engineered ingredients," or is "sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant."
Last week, the American Association of Scientist (AAAS) suggested that the law would "mislead and falsely alarm" consumers." They cite the FDA policy that, "special labeling of a food is required if the absence of information provided poses a special health of environmental risk." Using this as the measure, they point out that the European Union has spent over 300 million Euros on more than 130 research projects for 25 years looking into the biosafety of GMOs, and found that they are not more risky than conventional plant breeding. Also, the AAAS notes that, "In order to receive regulatory approval in the United States, each new GM crop must be subjected to rigorous analysis and testing." As a result, "GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply." Here is the full AAAS statement.
A group of 20 scientists, two associated with institutions in California, challenged the AAAS statement, arguing that it is "an Orwellian argument that violates the right of consumers." While they do not contest the research on the safety of consuming GMOs, they cite concerns that the, "narrow focus on GMO safety ignores the broader life-cycle impacts of GMO crops." They suggest, "herbicide-resistant GMOs are committing us to a chemical treadmill" that, "may induce detrimental health effects even at low exposure levels." Their concern is that, "Labeling GMO products would allow consumers to make choices based on these concerns."
Of course, the scientific debate is just one component of the discussion. The proposed regulations would have certainly have administrative, enforcement, and commercial consequences. These arguments can be viewed on the websites the proponents and opponents. Also, you can see who is funding each of the campaigns and view the full text of the proposed law. For more discussion on Proposition 37 and GMO labeling, see the previously posed article Should GM Foods Be Labeled?
Going into the last weekend before the election, the consensus seems to be going against Prop 37 by about 51% to 40% according the California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine University polls.