Thursday, October 25, 2012

GMOs and Prop 37 Confusion

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a concerned young man about GMOs and Prop 37, the ballot initiative in California to label GMOs. Check out the dialogue below.

I have some questions for you about 37:

Why is it meat, cow milk, eggs, cheese and other animal products arent going to be labeled with the info that informs people if theres gmo's in it? However soy milk, almond milk, rice milk etc. fall under this prop and will have to display if they use gmo's. Why are restaurants exempt? Why is liquor exempt? 

Food made outside the country is also exempt, allegedly they just have to say yes or no when asked if theres gmo's in their products, but the foreign stuff wont be tested like its American counter parts.

How and why is this prop allowing lawyers to sue family farmers and grocers without any proof of harm? Some family farms are ruined by Monsanto, and now they're at risk of losing a case if attacked or sued. Mom and pop markets are also at risk . 

Prop 37 is going to increase food cost by hundreds of dollars per year. Are seniors and low income families going to be assisted or given vouchers if 37 passes? Are any programs that give food out going to be implemented? I feel 37 is a good idea, but I also feel it should be rewritten in a way that benefits more people.

I feel it is important to know what I'm eating, but feel everything should be labeled equally from pet food to human food - anything that's edible. Furthermore, I'm currently under the impression that Prop 37 can lead to nasty quagmires for low income families and others. My mom is a nurse now, but as a child we were a low-income, single-parent type of family, along with a majority of the neighborhood. I grew up eating food paid for by the county ie: food stamps, WIC, EBT and so on because my mom couldnt afford to obtain food with the money  she was making at the time. 

And see my response below:

Meat, cheese, milk, etc. do not have to be labeled because they are considered secondary products - a cow eats a GMO grain, but it is not itself genetically modified, so it doesn't have to be labeled. A twinkie, on the other hand, contains modified grains directly and so has to be labeled.

Dog/animal feed is regulated by the same legislation (Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act) as human food. Further, a GMO grain, such as corn, can be ground up or processed into oil, dextrin, flour, etc. and be directly included in the kibble. This means that if you labeled it as containing GMOs, you would be accurate. I'm sure there are many pet owners and animal husbanders (people that raise animals for food, etc.) that would like to know whether the products they buy contain GMOs or no.

Alcohol is regulated under separate legislation from non-alcoholic beverages. Non-alcohol beverages have to contain nutrition and other labeling, but beer wine and spirits currently do not.

Restaurants are exempt because by law they do not have to declare what ingredients they use in their food.

Foreign foods - I am not sure about this issue in particular, but I think it is noteworthy to mention that the US is BY FAR the biggest producer of GMOs in the world, followed by China, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa. I think the biggest threat of GMO contamination we face is from our own food producers. The actual text of Prop 37 does not include any language excluding international food producers from GMO labeling requirements.

Further, food in the US under Prop 37 won't undergo any testing for GMOs; producers just have to label whether or not their products contain GMOs. Also for this reason, it is not the small farmers that will be sued under prop 37, but producers of food (as in the food processing and distribution companies) that would be sued if they included GMO ingredients in their foods and didn't label them. 

Small farmers will not be affected directly by Prop 37 - they are the growers. This is a different aspect of the food chain than distribution or food processing. Farmers grow, then sell their food to processors. Kellogg doesn't grow its own corn, but buys corn from farmers. It could be that because of labeling on food that demand in the US for non-GMO food starts to increase, but this would be gradual as it would require much public education as to what GMOs are in the first place. Labeling GMOs will help those who know what GMOs are and want to avoid them, it will help people at least know whether or not they are eating them, and it will raise the issue as something to think about for the vast majority of people who have never heard of a GMO before. This is the same thing with mom and pop stores - people aren't going to immediately stop buying Takis and Cheetos - its going to take a LOT of public education for people to really understand what GMOs are, and that type of thing takes time and money, especially when the education has to be done by grassroots groups.

Should everything be labeled? Yes, I agree, but the law deals with different food/beverage groups differently. Also, there is SO MUCH to label when it gets down to it - don't you want to know if pesticides have been sprayed on your food? I sure do, but this is another issue for another day.

As for the cost of food - I'm giving you a link to a website that addresses that aspect well, so see below. I would like to emphasize that GMO labeling is simply printing an extra graphic on a package of food. Printing a graphic will not cost the consumer hundreds of dollars more for food a month. The cost of food as relate to GMOs will only go up if producers of food switch to organic from what they currently use. The labeling initiative wouldn't force producers to use different ingredients, just to say what ingredients they are using. 

Even if there is a great demand for non GMO food in the long term, that still wouldn't necessarily make the cost go up in the long term. There are so many people working on sustainable food policy right now across the US - looking at how to eat sustainabily, organically, and healthily for CHEAPER. The fact of the matter is that the way that food is grown right now by the big corporations costs more, doesn't necessarily yield more (and often yields less in the long term), and is far less healthy than the variety of alternatives that exist. And the alternatives are simply going back to how food has been produced since time immortal - growing a large variety of crops in one space (versus only one type of corn for acres and acres), rotating different crops (so the soil has time to recover or can take up different nutrients from the last plant), etc.

Honestly, labeling GMOs is the first step in a long path to building a far more healthy, sustainable, and affordable (when you factor in all the tax subsidies that big farmers get) food system.