The food industry is digging deep to oppose California’s Proposition 37, which would mandate labeling of foods that contain ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
So far, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has contributed $375,000 to the campaign opposing labeling of GMOs, while individual food companies, including many individual GMA members, have brought the total investment in the anti-Prop 37 campaign to about $2m. Some of the biggest food industry donors include PepsiCo ($35,495), Coca-Cola North America ($24,081), General Mills ($19,401), The Kellogg Company ($13,080), Del Monte ($14,400), ConAgra Foods ($56,598), and Nestle USA ($37,286), and there are also many much larger contributions from biotech firms.
In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association, GMA president Pamela Bailey said that defeating the measure is “the single highest priority for GMA this year”, adding that labeling could pose “a serious, long term threat to the viability of agricultural biotechnology”.
Meanwhile, the proposition’s supporters have raised about $2.3m, including an $800,000 donation from nutrition products distributor Mercola .
Californians will vote on The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act in the November ballot, after it attracted nearly a million signatures. It would require such foods to be labeled in a “clear and conspicuous” manner, whether raw agricultural commodities or processed foods.
If voters approve the measure, food manufacturers could be required to label GM foods and ingredients sold in California from July 1, 2014 – and polls suggest that as many as nine in ten consumers support labeling.
What would the bill require?
The bill reads that a food would deemed to be misbranded unless labeled: “In the case of any processed food, in clear and conspicuous language on the front or back of the package of such food, with the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering””
In addition, food labeled as ‘natural’ would be deemed misbranded under the legislation if it contains genetically modified ingredients, in line with the precept of a swathe of lawsuits that have been brought against food companies in California. Currently the US Food and Drug Administration has no definition of the word ‘natural’.
Foods containing GMOs have been on US supermarket shelves since 1994, and an estimated 75% of all processed foods in US stores contain GMOs, according to the GMA. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 94% of all soy, over 90% of sugar beet and canola, and 88% of corn in the United States is now grown using GM seeds.
The GMA claims that mandatory labeling of foods containing GM ingredients is unnecessary and may confuse consumers because such foods are “materially no different” from non-GM foods.
At an American Bar Association debate on the issue, Arizona State University professor Gary Marchant said that if the proposition becomes law, it would be a ‘boondoggle’ for litigation attorneys, because it authorizes citizen lawsuits against alleged violators.
“This will result in employment for lawyers,” he said.