We have a fundamental right to know
what’s in the food we eat
NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 15, By MARK BITTMAN
IT’S not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone wants to see the labeling of genetically engineered materials contained in their food products. And on Nov. 6, in what’s unquestionably among the most important non-national votes this year, Californians will have the opportunity to make that happen — at least in theory — by weighing in on Proposition 37.
Prop 37’s language is clear on two points: it would require “labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.” And it would prohibit marketing “such food, or other processed food, as ‘natural.’ ” (For now, let’s ignore the vast implications of the phrase “or other processed food,” lest we become overexcited, except to say that the literal interpretation of that sentence has the processed food manufacturers’ collective hair on fire.)
Polls show Prop 37 to be overwhelmingly popular: roughly 65 percent for to 20 percent against, with 15 percent undecided. Nationally, on the broader issue of labeling, in answer to the question of whether the Food and Drug Administration should require that “foods which have been genetically engineered or containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled to indicate that,” a whopping 91 percent of voters say yes and 5 percent say no. This is as nonpartisan as an issue gets, and the polls haven’t changed much in the last couple of years.
Unsurprisingly, Big Food in general — and particularly companies like Monsanto that produce genetically engineered seeds and the ultraprofitable herbicides, pesticides and other materials that in theory make those seeds especially productive — have already thrown tens of millions of dollars into defeating Prop 37. On the other side is a relatively underfunded coalition led by California Right to Know, which collected the necessary million-plus (yes!) signatures to get the proposition on the ballot. Although television advertising has just begun and its advocates would never say so, at the moment the bill seems assured of passage. Excellent.