Genetically modified food vote both disappointing and surprising

Sedona Chinn, Crier Staff

As a Californian, I was not extensively concerned with the outcome of the presidential election. California’s fifty-five electoral votes would go to President Obama without any doubt. Frankly, watching the returns come in for your state is not nearly so exciting when you already know the results.

As with many other Californians, I suspect, I was more anxious to see the results of numerous controversial ballot initiatives, none more so than the labeling of genetically modified (GM) food. When I discovered early Wednesday morning that Prop 37, which would have required the labeling of GM food sold in California, had been rejected, it cast a bitter note on the rest of my day.

A food product whose ge netic material in the DNA has been manipulated in some way is referred to as a GM food. Some features scientists have been able to create are pesticide resistance, insecticide secretion, added nutrients, and increased durability for shipping and transport.

Proponents of GM food argue that genetic manipulation of plants and animals meant for consumption would help to keep food prices low by allowing more efficient large-scale agriculture. It would also help developing nations where food resources are scarce by creating hardier crops with increased nutritional content.

Opponents express many different objections, including the survival of small family farms, the possible risks GM foods pose to the human body, and the lack of social responsibility on the part of the multinational corporations who control the use of GM seeds.

California Proposition 37 was put forth by the California Right to Know campaign, which advocated that consumers had the right to information and the right to make the choice about whether they would consume GM food for themselves. Proposition 37 would have required that food products made with genetically modified material be labeled as such, as well as mandating that the label “natural” could not appear on such products.

Early figures from the campaign showed near to two-thirds of Californians supporting labeling. However, corporations heavily invested in GM food formed a campaign against the labeling of GM food. Monsanto, PepsiCo, Kellogg Company, Campbell Soup Company, Hershey, and Coca-Cola, among other out-of-state donors, collectively spend $46 million on a campaign to “Stop the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.” They claimed that the labeling of GM food was unnecessary, would impose a hefty financial burden upon grocery stores, and would create a complex and expensive bureaucracy.

California is not the first to suggest labeling GM food. Currently, over 40 countries in the world require labeling of GM food, including China, Russia, Brazil, India, Australia, and Japan. The European Union has required labels and information for traceability on all GM food since 2003.

In the US presently, GM produce can be identified by the produce sticker, which is a five-digit number beginning with an eight. Organic produce is marked with a five-digit number beginning with a nine, and all other produce has four digits in the sticker. However, there is no labeling mechanism for processed food, from flour to soda to frozen dinners.

In my opinion, there is something intrinsically wrong with corporations spending millions to keep the public ignorant of what they ingest. The issues regarding GM food are not solely related to health and sickness. Corporate monopoly on food, the abysmal social responsibility records of these corporations, or moral considerations may all be a part of responsible decision-making.

These factors go well beyond the jurisdiction of the FDA, and reflect personal principles that ought to affect individual decisions about GM food. But by campaigning against labeling GM food, corporations are denying individuals the agency to make informed decisions about their health and the consequences of their actions.