Supporters gather on the corner of State and Anapamu streets to rally for Proposition 37.

Paul Wellman

Supporters gather on the corner of State and Anapamu streets to rally for Proposition 37.

Frankenfood Freak-Out

Should Genetically Modified Products Be Labeled?

Thursday, November 1, 2012
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The battle over California’s Proposition 37 has been called a David-and-Goliath matchup as campaign spending records show the race is severely lopsided. Opponents of the proposition ​— ​like chemical titans Monsanto and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. ​— ​have outspent Yes on 37 by a landslide, raising more than $40 million as of October 26. The supporters, by comparison, have racked up just over $7 million in contributions from a base that ranges from corporations like Whole Foods and Amy’s Kitchen to several hundred private donors.

Advocates of the bill, which would require manufacturers to label genetically modified foods or foods made with genetically modified ingredients, have run a vigorous campaign based on the people’s “right to know.” They say these products could pose unknown health risks to consumers, and that the public should have the opportunity to make a conscious choice whether or not to eat them.

These Yes on 37 proponents are up against corporate juggernauts and a number of small agricultural businesses who say legislation is inefficient, could trigger a bevy of lawsuits, and would be extremely costly to both consumers and producers. They counter that the labels would unfairly dissuade shoppers from buying foods made with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) when there’s no real proof they’re unhealthy.

Area coordinator Trevon Babcock, decked out in Yes on 37 attire, holds up his signs.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Area coordinator Trevon Babcock, decked out in Yes on 37 attire, holds up his signs.

And it appears the spending gap has made a difference. Originally, the proposition enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support from a large percentage of California voters. In the middle of September, the Los Angeles Times polled Prop. 37 at 61 percent yes, 25 percent no, and 14 percent undecided. By the middle of October, those figures had fallen to 44 percent in favor, 42 percent opposed, and 14 percent still undecided.

Despite the huge amount of cash involved, neither side has been able to come up with consistent scientific testimony to support their claims. The Yes campaign has often pointed to a French study that found rats fed genetically modified “Roundup-resistant” corn ​— ​a staple of Monsanto’s agricultural exports ​— ​grew tumors and died in far larger numbers than the control group. The experiment, however, has come under serious fire by other scientists who say the control group was too small and that the species of rats used have a predisposition to mammary tumors when they’re given unrestricted access to food, whether genetically modified or not.

On the other hand, the No on 37 campaign has been formally rebuked by Stanford University’s legal team, which took issue with a campaign ad touting Dr. Henry Miller. The ad, which was shot against a backdrop of Stanford’s campus, featured Miller as an academic voice against the proposition and implied that Miller’s views were those of the university, according to Stanford’s legal counsel.

In Santa Barbara County, Prop. 37’s supporters have been far more visible than its opponents, picketing shows at the Santa Barbara Bowl and setting up booths at the farmers’ markets and Goleta’s Lemon Festival. On September 22, roughly three dozen volunteers held a downtown rally, flagging down passersby, holding up signs, and distributing flyers to spread their message.

The group is a ramshackle organization of community members coordinated by activist Trevon Babcock, who says he’s worked full-time on the effort for more than a year. Labeling GMOs, he said, would “put the consumer back in the driver’s seat, instead of the government or big corporations.” Babcock and others compare this year’s initiative to past legislation, like the bill approved in 2003 that says products with trans fats must be labeled by their manufacturers.

Additionally, Babcock said the proposition would put organic and natural farmers on a more even footing with large food corporations. “I think it will definitely help because it’s going to provide a more transparent market,” Babcock said. “The GMO foods will be labeled, so basically we’ll be able to compete better against [large corporations].”

Oscar Carmona, owner and operator of Santa Barbara’s Healing Grounds Nursery, a certified organic business, said the risks of GMO foods have yet to be fully assessed. “The lie is that this stuff is totally figured out,” he said. “It’s not totally figured out. They’ve rushed to get this stuff into the market and suppressed any data or scientific information that goes against their goals.”

Responding to claims that the bill’s provisions would open the door to a landslide of compliance lawsuits against the agricultural industry, Zack Kaldveer, assistant media director for the Right to Know campaign, said: “There are no bounty-hunter provisions in Prop. 37, no reason to believe that businesses would not simply abide by the law and label their products as they do for fat and sodium.”

But Greg Palla, who owns an “average-sized” family farm that grows both GMO and non-GMO crops in Kern County, cites Prop. 37’s non-comingling provision as an example how and why the bill could put some smaller producers in court. The bill would require farmers to give food manufacturers a signed statement that their non-GMO crops have not come into contact with GMOs at any point during harvesting or processing, meaning farm owners may have to buy more equipment or face attorneys’ fees. “Ultimately the consumer would have to bear those costs in the form of higher food prices,” Palla said.

Plus, Palla went on, no grower would intentionally put a consumer at risk if they thought GMOs were dangerous. “The fact of the matter is the label itself implies that the public doesn’t have access to enough info about the safety of genetically engineered crop systems,” Palla said. “And if a farmer felt what they were producing was going to jeopardize somebody’s health, we wouldn’t want to be a part of that system. There haven’t been any documented cases of ill health associated with GE [genetically engineered] crops.”

Victor Tognazzini, a Santa Maria farmer and the S.B. County Farm Bureau treasurer.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Victor Tognazzini, a Santa Maria farmer and the S.B. County Farm Bureau treasurer.

While the No on 37 campaign, which has controversially advertised that passage of Prop. 37 would increase the average family’s grocery bill by $350 to $400 per year, does not appear to have any locally coordinated leadership, the statewide campaign has worked with several farmers in opposition, including Victor Tognazzini, a Santa Maria farmer and treasurer of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau.

Tognazzini said the proposition’s negative repercussions would fall on small businesses and consumers, not corporations. “This is not really about GMOs; it’s about labeling,” Tognazzini said.

Other farmers, like Santa Maria’s Peter Adam, who’s running against Joni Gray for the 4th District County Supervisor seat, oppose the proposition because it represents just another barrier of regulation in the agriculture market. “I think we’re overregulated enough, and we all just need to take a break,” Adam said. “I’m opposed to regulation in general.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Vote No prop 37. The truth is in the proposition itself which all should read as well as read the Legislative analysis of prop 37. I'm all for Non-GMO and Non-GE but this is a misleading prop as well as contains huge loopholes that allow for most GMO and GE products to slip by unlabeled. So much for right to know with this prop, it's more like Right to MisInform and Right to Undisclose for producers of GE and GMO. This prop also groups Retailers into the mix of who will be held accountable for labeling and allows for consumers to sue without proof of harm. Great Prop for Trial Lawyers and producers of GMO's and GE's. Bad law for Taxpayers, Bad law for Citizens who truly want to be informed and bad for Retailers !

All Voters really need to stop being informed through biased websites and start reading the Propositons and Analysis of the prop !

InformedVoter (anonymous profile)
November 1, 2012 at 6 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, InformedVoter is correct... let's let Monsanto continue to hide and mislead the public. Trust Monsanto to do what's right for us. They did well with Agent Orange, DDT, Aspartame, PCB's, BGH, and other chemicals. Yes, let chemical companies be in charge of deciding what's healthy and what's not.

Oh, and it is poorly written... which is why Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto have to spend millions and have spent millions in other state to defeat this prop and ones similar to it. It must be written perfectly before we should expect change in this area, change that 40+ other countries have already instituted. Don't let that change begin here in CA with this prop. Just don't do it. Click on this youtube video for a helpful explanation from Monsanto:

sbsurfguy (anonymous profile)
November 1, 2012 at 12:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

User profile: InformedVoter
Joined: Nov. 1, 2012

Comments posted: 1 (view all)

Be-lie-ve this guy, yes is the new no, up is the new down, good is the new bad because Monsanto has our best interests at heart when they spend millions for the population to be it's testing lab/guinea pigs. Total disrespect for humans/earth/life. Sell out for a pittance, you should be ashamed.

spacey (anonymous profile)
November 1, 2012 at 2:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Extremely misleading: "neither side has been able to come up with consistent scientific testimony to support their claims." Scientific testimony would come into play if the Proposition proposed to outlaw GMO's on the grounds that they've been proven to be harmful. But it doesn't do that. It says that consumers should know about the makeup of a given item so that they can make their best-informed decision about it. That isn't a claim about the genetics of food modification; it's a claim about whether people have a right to know what's in the food they buy.

pk (anonymous profile)
November 1, 2012 at 4:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"neither side has been able to come up with consistent scientific testimony to support their claims...."
As though they were equals??
You have been eating an expanding number of GMOs unknowingly since 1994 when they were first commercialized.
It would seem the industry profiting off of your consuming their novel products could have performed since then:

A. At least ONE peer-reviewed published scientific LONG TERM human trial showing that GMO food is safe.

B. If not that, then One peer reviewed published scientific SHORT term human trial.

C. If not that, then one peer reviewed published scientific long term ANIMAL trial.

D. If not that, then one peer reviewed published scientific Short term animal trial.

E. If not that, then one NON-peer reviewed Non-published short term animal trial??

They hired a lab to do a trial of fewer than ten rats for 90 days with no publication, no scientific review and since the rats didn't all die, the food "must be safe".
Monsanto, the owner of the technology had their top officials who had been appointed to government regulatory posts rubber stamp the technology. It was out of the bottle and in our food. See this chart showing who is who:

(E), is the ONLY "safety study" conducted for the GMO food that an 18 year old has been eating their entire life and the rest of us since 1994.
Has autism increased?, breast and prostate cancer?, ADHD?, infertility?, Crohn's Disease?, Gluten sensitivity? Allergic reactions, Lyme disease, all these "new and mysterious diseases" have been linked to the novel proteins and effects of GMOs through science that is peer reviewed and published.

Now about that cotton farmer "expert".
Cotton is not a food crop. Why is the cotton farmer so active in food labeling?
He's getting a piece of that $40 million of overseas money perhaps, like "Dr" Miller, and more importantly
he's making a fortune selling his cotton seeds, normally a trash product, to food processors that use it to make cheap oil that's in all manner of processed foods.

You are getting cotton pesticides, the genetic modifications and the roundup herbicide in your children's cereal, your food and even what animals eat when you eat cotton seed oil.
Pull a box of processed food out of your cupboard. Read the ingredients. (They screamed about that label too but lost long time ago )
80% of what is in your cupboard is genetically modified and doused with Roundup.
Yes on 37

MaryLouise (anonymous profile)
November 1, 2012 at 4:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"the No on 37 campaign, which has controversially advertised that passage of Prop. 37 would increase the average family’s grocery bill by $350 to $400 per year, does not appear to have any locally coordinated leadership, "

The non-partisan state legislative office has stated that the cost to Californians of Prop 37 would be between 3/10ths of a penny to 3 cents per person per year.

"Local leadership?" Have you seen even one No on 37 bumper sticker or sign? There is no local campaign, it's all funded from St. Louis, Berlin and Geneva where Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and Nestle have their corporate headquarters.
Labeling is required in Europe by the way.

Greg Palla I believe has a small organic vegetable patch to feed his family. The rest is cotton.

Here's the coordinator of the state No campaign.
Anyone with Google can find this information:

Tom Hiltachk is the PR gunslinger behind the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition (CACFLP), an anti-labeling front group. A partner at the Sacramento-based lobbying firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, Hiltachk is no stranger to front groups. With a little help from his friends at Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, he helped organize the Californians for Smokers’ Rights group to fight anti-smoking initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s. He also helped form the Californians for Fair Business Policy – a so-called “grassroots” organization, but actually a front group to mobilize business opposition to anti-smoking initiatives. That organization was funded by an “academic” front group – the Claremont Institute – which was in turn funded by tobacco companies.

Can you trust these people with your health? Vote Yes on 37. Let the market then decide the fate of GMOs in our food.

MaryLouise (anonymous profile)
November 1, 2012 at 5:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We must vote "yes" because it is in our best interest to know this information. 92% of Americans would like GMO's labeled. In Europe all products containing more than .9 percent GMO are labeled as such.

Also, presently: 93% of all soy, 86% of corn, and 93% of canola seeds are now genetically modified.

This is our chance to take back our power of CHOICE in what we eat, whether we want to eat this stuff or have some concerns! Let's vote together.

robertyoung (anonymous profile)
November 1, 2012 at 8:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The best way to get food labeled is to ask for it. Call or email the manufacturer, and tell them you want a product that is certified GMO free. If enough people want to buy it, they'll make it and label it. Just look at the organic industry, and more recently the gluten free industry. Heck, you can buy a soda that is 'gluten free'.

Rich (anonymous profile)
November 2, 2012 at 7:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I appreciate the article on Prop 37 (and especially the Independent's endorsement of Yes on 37). I just wish the reporter had done a bit more research. When one side has shown such a blatant and longstanding disregard for the truth as the corporations behind No on 37, the conventional "fair and balanced" format in which both sides are given equal time to state their claims is not as conducive to finding out the real story as more in-depth fact-checking. This is especially necessary when every major newspaper in the state has obligingly parroted No on 37's arguments. There is no proof that GMOs are safe, but there are many animal studies that show alarming rates of illness, not just the recent study done in France (which by the way used the same type of rats and size of control group that Monsanto did to prove their crops were safe, but the Monsanto study was ended after 90 days. The French one went on for two years, and the cancers started appearing in the fourth month.) Many, many farmers support Prop 37, including all the organic ones. I am sure the farmers who grow GMOs would not intentionally harm our health, but Monsanto and the other GMO seed sellers are withholding information from them as well. Also, the $400 figure for increased food costs came from a study commissioned by Monsanto, while an independent study done at Emory University School of Law (as well as the experience of Europe and other countries with labeling laws) show there will be no increase. We all have a right to decide what we want to ingest and feed our families! Let's join 61 countries and claim our rights! Yes on 37!

AnneC (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2012 at 7:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

About those "lawsuits" total lies by Monsanto.
Here's the real story of 37.
--Unlike Prop 65, Prop 37 does NOT create any new cause of action for damages--ONLY for injunctive relief, that is, no money, just an order for the manufacturer to put on the required label.
--The only action for damages is under the Cal. Consumer Legal Remedies Act-- allowing a consumer to sue ONLY for the price of the product she bought ($3, $5 whatever) without showing special injury to be sure-- but that's ALL she can recover, unless it's a class action. But no class action can proceed under that law, UNLESS that manufacturer is given advance warning and a chance to agree to start labeling in a reasonable period of time. If they do, no class action lawsuit can proceed.
--Farmers have NO responsibility or obligation of any kind under this law and there's no way they can be sued for anything (unless they deliberately lie about the source of their seed in a voluntary statement given to a customer).
--Retailers have no obligation under this law EXCEPT to label raw fruits vegetables meat & fish at point of sale-- and right now there's basically nothing except corn, some types of zucchini & squash and papayas that would have to be labeled; and that obligation can be satisfied with a handmade sign Scotch-taped onto the produce bin.


The rat studies show that not only do the GMOs induce the equivalent of breast and prostate cancer in humans, but the rats are mostly sterile on the third generation.
Imagine a someone in their twenties now who eats GMOs and doesn't care about it. Here's a future conversation they might have with their daughter or granddaughter who cannot conceive year after year:
"You see, we really believed that we were protecting some grocer somewhere from a lawsuit or something and so we didn't vote to label genetically modified food.."
"We kept on eating it and didn't pay attention and then the science showed the effects...I'm sorry Honey.... Maybe you could adopt a child from Mongolia or somewhere?"

MaryLouise (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2012 at 9:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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