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California's Vote on Prop 37 Will Send a Message to the FDA: Can We Trust Our Food System?

Peter Lehner

Posted October 23, 2012

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Consumers have a right to know what's in their food. And in much of the world, they do, because of government labeling laws. For example, China, Russia, and India are among the 50-odd nations that require labeling of genetically modified foods, or GMOs. Here in America, however, we can't get information on GMO foods. That’s because chemical companies and food manufacturers have a stranglehold on the system of government oversight that is supposed to ensure the safety of our food supply.

And it’s consumers who are stuck paying the price for this broken system.

Foodborne illnesses sicken millions of Americans each year. Intensive use of antibiotics in the livestock sector breeds resistant superbugs that now threaten people. Millions of pounds of toxic pesticides continue to be released into our environment, threatening farmworkers, farmers and our natural resources. The hormone-disrupting chemical BPA is still used in food packaging, despite reams of scientific data indicating cause for concern. Rampant overuse of chemical fertilizers has created a 6,800 square mile dead zone in the Gulf, now utterly devoid of life.

And so public trust in our food system, and on the government mechanisms that are supposed to ensure its safety, is rightfully crumbling.

But in a couple of weeks, California voters will have an opportunity to send a powerful message to food manufacturers--and to Washington--about the need for greater transparency in our food system. Proposition 37, The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, will require the labeling of GMO foods and food ingredients.

NRDC is not opposed to the use of GMOs. Rather, we support increased transparency in our food supply. Advocates of the proposition are just asking for information. A label. There's no ban. Regardless of the potential costs or benefits of GMOs, consumers have the right to make informed decisions about the food they purchase. As Bill Maher quipped on his show Real Time, "We just want what Russia and China have. We just want to be as open as Russia and China."  

This vote will also send a message to chemical corporations that are perpetuating the mounting and unsustainable use of toxic pesticides. The next generation of GMO crops promises to unleash widescale use of the older, more toxic herbicides 2,4-D (a component of Agent Orange) and dicamba. This trend is a vicious cycle NRDC is fighting. Replacing millions of acres of GMO corn and soy, engineered to tolerate the herbicide known as Roundup, with these new crops geared to withstand the application of even more toxic chemicals, will truly be a disaster for health and the environment. 

California's vote on November 6th is a bellwether for how serious we are about addressing the problems inherent in our industrial food system. If Californians stand up for Prop 37 and demand their right to know, we might, as Michael Pollan observed recently in the New York Times Magazine, really have a true "food movement" on our hands. A democratic food movement capable of effecting real, systemic, lasting change, through the government, on the way we produce and provide food.

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Ricky ClayOct 23 2012 11:44 PM

Thank You for your support !

MOM of 3Oct 24 2012 05:06 AM

Thank you for endorsing Prop 37.

I don't think GMOs should have been allowed in the food supply in the first place. At the least it should be labeled.

What happened to Americans' rights? We should have the right to know what is in our food and the right to choose whether we want to consume potentially dangerous food. I am angry that we have been deprived of this right for so long and that unknowingly have been feeding my children these foods. I am thoroughly disgusted and disappointed in our government agencies.

It's about time consumers have the right to know. Yes on Prop 37! Label GMO!

Laurie BramlageOct 24 2012 12:27 PM

Excellent piece. Here's another blog post you might find interesting by the Knife & Fork Project, breaking down the pros and cons of Prop 37 and addressing the "misleading and confusing" advertising in a conversational manner:

St. McDuckOct 24 2012 02:11 PM

GMO labeling should have been required on a national level ever since chemical companies started shoveling genetic modification into our food.
Now Prop 37 allows Californians to set a precedent that can be followed by other states, to correct what has been an obscene oversight on our government's part.
Yes on 37, for the future of our food.

El 3737Oct 24 2012 09:00 PM

Excellent article, but apparently Americans only listen to their corporate overlords. Support for Prop 37 has steadily fallen as pesticide conglomerates have blanketed the airways with forecasts of economic disaster; shakedown lawsuits; and rising food bills if Americans have the simple right to know what we are eating. And rather than investigating the truth of this outrageous scare mongering, more and more Californians are content to just vote "no." Never giving one thought to the rights they are relinquishing to corporations determined to genetically foul every food we eat with foreign genes and embedded chemicals. This is a sad time to be an American; a great time to be a multinational CEO.

Debra Martin Oct 26 2012 06:01 PM

We have the right to know and choose what is best for our health. Studies show that these products may influence such illness's as asthma, colitis, diabetes & etc. if we are to have personal responsibility for our well being we should be informed. Also, if nothing is wrong with GMO's why hide them? It is similar concept as listing ingredients some people can handle it and others may have health issues that would like to avoid them. Please be fair and just and give us an option. Otherwise Dr Oz put out a list of foods to avoid until you start listing them.
Thank you

heidiOct 26 2012 11:59 PM

We do have the right to know what is in our food. More info is required on labels and certain foods.
Thank you

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