Genetically Modified Foods Might be Voted Out on Election Day

If California's Proposition 37 passes in November, it will have an impact in Massachusetts.

fruits and vegetablesFarmer’s Market photo via Shutterstock

Election Day in November will determine more than who will sit in the Oval Office for the next four years, it also has the potential to set a major precedent to changes in our food system. Among other things, California’s Proposition 37 would require mandatory labeling for genetically modified foods.

Proponents say that there is ample evidence showing that genetically modified (G.M.) foods can be toxic, allergenic, and less nutritious than processed and genetically engineered foods. They believe that everyone has a right to know whether or not their food contains G.M. ingredients. For a deeper look into the evidence, check out a report published this summer by Earth Opensource, which examines the safety of G.M. crops.

It’s clear that the local and organic food movement could be growing faster than the food industry as a whole. The amazing Organic Food Guide’s map reveals farms, restaurants, and markets where we can find local and organic food in Boston and throughout Massachusetts. But despite these food market trends, Michael Pollan points out in his recent New York Times piece that this election will also determine “… whether or not there is a ‘food movement’ in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system.”

Passing bills that affect big food industry is no easy task, especially when big companies like Sara Lee and the Sugar Association have filed petitions to keep labels like “natural” undefined. To get a sense of just how powerful the food industry’s hold is over legislation, consider the results of a survey conducted by The Mellman Group: It showed that across the United States, regardless of political affiliation, more than 90 percent of people are in favor of the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Yet the passing of Prop 37 is not a sure bet.

If Prop 37 passes in California, it will set the precedent for others states to adopt similar legislation. If Massachusetts were to adopt a similar law, we would not see changes to dairy, meat, alcohol, or any restaurant foods because those are exempt from the bill as it’s written. We would, however, see changes at the supermarket as all raw or processed foods that are intentionally and knowingly genetically modified must be labeled as such. Labeling or advertising foods with genetically modified components as “natural” would be prohibited.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that 75 to 80 percent of conventionally processed food in the U.S. contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The same study also says that 58 percent of Americans are unaware of GMOs. Basically, more than half of us have no idea what we are eating.

Some experts who oppose Prop 37 believe that many food manufacturers will respond to the labeling law by reformulating their ingredients to non-GMOs in order to avoid putting the label on products. The result would be higher food costs.

Personally, I will gladly fork over a bit more money for safe, quality ingredients, and for peace of mind. Prop 37 is a huge win for the food movement.

What do you think about GMOs and Prop 37? Are you for this kind of legislation in Massachusetts?