Genetically Modified Foods and California’s Proposition 37 come into the Spotlight Following the Summer 2012 Drought

Tuesday, September 18, 2012, by Carla Gray

The drought that struck the Midwest has had devastating consequences on the nation’s corn supply this summer. Because dry weather conditions can hamper many crops and reduce food supply, the Monsanto Company created “DroughtGard,” a Monsanto corn seed that is genetically resistant to drought conditions. The use of such a seed might help provide a more steady supply of corn in drought conditions, which in turn could help stabilize farmers and corn yields in the United States.

However, the widespread future use of genetically modified seeds such as “DroughtGard” might be affected following the introduction of California’s Proposition 37. Proposition 37, titled The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, is up for ballot vote in the state this November. The Act would require labeling on foods sold in California to specify whether a food item was produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Specifically, it would require “clear and conspicuous” labeling on certain food products after July 1, 2014. However, the text of Proposition 37 provides several exemptions to the labeling scheme. Two notable exemptions include alcoholic beverages, and foods produced from animals that have not been genetically engineered. Thus, it appears that alcohol, dairy products, and animal meat could be exempt from the rule.

Proposition 37, if passed, could have implications not only in California, but across the entire country.

In response to Proposition 37, many groups have chosen sides on the issue. Whole Foods, United Farm Workers, and others have endorsed Proposition 37. They base their endorsement upon the belief that consumers have a “right to know” what is in their food and how it is produced. Others, such as local Chambers of Commerce in the state, biotechnology companies, and food companies do not endorse the Proposition 37 requirement to label genetically modified ingredients on food packages. For example, the Monsanto Company argues that requiring companies to label whether a product contains GMOs is unjustified because science does not support that genetically modified foods are different from conventional foods. The company’s position is also that such labeling would shake consumer confidence of foods.

No matter what side you are on, it is clear that Proposition 37, if passed, could have implications not only in California, but across the entire country. For example, one professor has suggested that due to California’s size and position within the U.S. food market, if labeling is required in California, labeling could appear on food packaging throughout the country. This is likely because of the economic advantages of producing one type of packaging for all products, as compared to the disadvantage creating a particular packaging for California and different packaging for other states.

In turn, what this means for the food industry is that food grown from genetically modified sources will have to be labeled if Proposition 37 passes, and ultimately, labeling could become widespread. For consumers, labeling will increase awareness of food production processes. Labeling will also allow consumers to choose GMO and/or non-GMO products for their own pantries. When consumers choose, the market will ultimately determine how prolific genetically modified foods will be in the coming years.