Labels are not a solution

Lizz Carson

California Proposition 37 is a poorly written law that has too many loopholes to be effective.  Although the intentions are in the right place, Prop. 37 would end up costing far more than it is worth and wouldn’t even guarantee the labeling of all genetically engineered foods.

Prop. 37 “Requires labeling on raw or processed foods offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specific ways,” according to the summary of the proposition in the California Voter’s Guide. It goes on to exempt any foods that are “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.”

Because of the clauses written into the law, labels would not be put on many foods that are actually genetically engineered.  Any animal product that was not directly genetically engineered would not require labeling, regardless of whether or not that animal was fed genetically engineered crops.   This means that any farmer that was raising chickens, cows, sheep or pigs to be butchered and sold would not have to worry about if their animals’ diets contained genetically engineered feed or not.  The law still leaves no way to determine whether the food that you eat had, at one time, eaten genetically altered food itself, and thereby passed it on to you.

The law also contains a loophole for food that is intended to be served immediately, such as in restaurants.  So there would still be no way to tell if your favorite place to eat is using genetically modified fruits and vegetables or not.

Beyond the deceptive writing, Prop. 37 fails to provide an accurate definition of exactly what “genetically engineered” means at all.  The proposition gives this definition of genetically engineered foods: “Genetic engineering is the process of changing the genetic material of a living organism to produce some desired change in that organism’s characteristics. This process is often used to develop new plant and animal varieties that are later used as sources of foods, referred to as GE foods. For example, genetic engineering is often used to improve a plant’s resistance to pests or to allow a plant to withstand the use of pesticides. Some of the most common GE crops include varieties of corn and soybeans.” This definition fails to recognize other uses for genetic engineering beyond pest control.  Genetic Engineering has been used for generations as a way to weed out the sick in crops and herds.  Genetically modifying plants and animals isn’t just about making them resist pests or diseases, it is also a way to improve the food that is available to consumer.

The University of Maryland Medical Center Encyclopedia defines “Genetically Engineered Foods” as: “Foods (that) have had foreign genes (genes from other plants or animals) inserted into their genetic codes.  Genetic engineering can be done with plants, animals, or microorganisms. Historically, farmers bred plants and animals for thousands of years to produce the desired traits. For example, they produced dogs ranging from Poodles to Great Danes…Genetic engineering allows scientists to speed this process up by moving desired genes from one plant into another — or even from an animal to a plant, or vice-versa.”

When looking at this definition, genetic engineering doesn’t seem so bad, and it really isn’t.  Humans have been genetically engineering foods for generations by cross breeding crops and herds to produce the best quality offspring for consumption.  The fact that scientists can now do this in a lab to save generations of work is a testament to the advancement of the human race.  To be able to produce crops that will grow in harsh weather is an achievement, not something to be feared.  Genetic engineering isn’t meant to create a Frankenstein-type hybrid of animals and plants, as Prop. 37 would have you believe; it is meant to help feed the world.  By making it harder for people to sell genetically engineered crops, Prop. 37 would make it harder for many people to get quality foods at lower prices.

Beyond the unintended hike in food prices, Prop. 37 will also require “a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually,” just to maintain the regulations on genetically engineered foods, according to the analysis provided to voters by the State of California.

The costs of regulating this ineffective law are astronomical.  Using $1 million annually just to put labels on selective foods is inefficient and a waste of State Administrative money.  If there weren’t so many loopholes written into the law, then maybe it could be a good idea. But with so many exemptions on what could or could not be labeled, Prop. 37 doesn’t make any real changes and uses unnecessary amounts of money and resources to do it.