Californians are on course to vote whether genetically modified food must be labeled. A petition was signed by 971,126 Californians, 75 percent more than the minimum needed for a statewide vote concurrent with the Nov. 6 general election.
Approval from 50 percent of voters would make the proposal law.
“The right to know is as American as apple pie,” said Gary Ruskin, an Oakland-based proponent for the measure, officially known as Proposition 37.
The California movement is mobilizing consumer unease over modified ingredients, which are found in about 80 percent of processed foods in the U.S. according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The campaign is the best chance for biotech labeling in the U.S. after the failure of similar bills in 19 states and the rejection of a petition to the Food and Drug Administration last month, Ruskin said.
Monsanto, a multinational agriculture biotech company, opposes labeling modified ingredients because the move risks “misleading consumers into thinking products are not safe when in fact they are,” Sara E. Miller, a spokeswoman for St. Louis-based Monsanto, said in an e-mail.
Biotech labeling, which has been adopted in more than 50 countries, has never been endorsed by the FDA.
Modified foods have been in U.S. grocery stores since 1994. Ninety-three percent of Americans say genetically engineered foods should be labeled, according to an October 2010 poll conducted by Thompson Reuters Corp. and National Public Radio. Seventy-nine percent have doubts about the safety of such foods, according to the poll.
Should it be approved, Proposition 37 would require labels of foods made with biotech ingredients to state that they were “produced with genetic engineering.” Labels would be phased in over 18 months. Exemptions include restaurant food, alcohol and meat from animals fed with modified grains.
The label “would be the equivalent of a skull and crossbones” that would drive away customers and force food producers to stop using engineered ingredients, Joseph Mercola, the initiative’s leading funder with $800,000 in donations, said in a Web posting. Mercola is an osteopath who promotes natural remedies at his clinic in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
“Whether or not you believe agricultural chemicals belong in a wholesome diet is beside the point,” said Mercola. “You still ought to have the right to decide whether you want to spend your money on foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.”
Popular New York Times food writer Mark Bittman says Proposition 37 will give consumers the basic right to know what they are eating.
“We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced,” he wrote in a recent column. “This is true even if food containing or produced using GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were the greatest thing since crusty bread.”
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