California residents will have the chance to vote on the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, also known as Proposition 37, on Election Day this year. The act will require retail stores to label all genetically engineered foods. According to the Prop. 37 website, “More than 40 countries with over 40 percent of the world’s population already label genetically engineered foods.”
Genetically modified foods, also called biotech foods, are foods created with organisms that have alternated DNA introduced using genetic engineering. Reasons for genetically modifying foods include adding nutritional value, faster growth and resistance to specific pathogens. The most popular genetically engineered foods are: corn, rice, cotton and soybeans. Many of these products created in a laboratory have pesticides in their tissue.
Lack of studies on the safety of human consumption of these foods is the main push behind Prop 37. Those companies opposed to Prop 37 include Monsanto, which manufactures the majority of all genetically engineered seeds; and DuPont, the manufacturer of DDT and Teflon. A National Academy of Sciences report concluded that products of genetic engineering technology “carry the potential for introducing unintended compositional changes that may have adverse effects on human health.”
Another reason for the Prop 37 push is evidence of herbicide-resistant weeds caused by crops genetically modified to withstand pesticides that kill weeds.
An article published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences titled “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management” states: “This technology [genetically modified herbicide-resistant weeds] will allow these herbicides to be used over vastly expanded areas and will likely create three interrelated challenges for sustainable weed management. First, crops with stacked herbicide resistance are likely to increase the severity of resistant weeds. Second, these crops will facilitate a significant increase in herbicide use, with potential negative consequences for environmental quality. Finally, the short-term fix provided by the new traits will encourage continued neglect of public research and extension in integrated weed management.”
Although California has the most organic cropland than any other state, there is risk of accidental contamination from nearby farms that grow genetically altered crops. This poses a major financial risk, including lawsuits from companies that hold patents on genetically engineered seeds, as in the Monsanto v. Schmeiser case in Canada (analysis of the case can be found here.
Visit the Prop. 37 website for more information.