By now we know that genetically modified food makes up a substantial portion of our diet in the U.S., despite the lack of transparency in labeling. Food companies have been under scrutiny for years regarding lack of labeling for GMOs, and now, a coalition of family farmers and NGOs are working to put a proposition on California’s November ballot to require food companies to label products if they are “produced with genetic engineering.”
If this bill is passed by voters, it could well have a nationwide ripple effect, preventing food companies from going through one labeling process for California products and another for the rest of the country.
This isn’t the first time GMO labeling has been on a ballot. In 2002, Oregon attempted a similar vote, but grocery lobbyists and massive spending by major food companies trumped the proposition.
In 2004, California’s Mendocino County voted on a measure to ban the cultivation of genetically engineered crops there. Santa Cruz, Marin, and Trinity counties all followed soon after. Over the past several years there’s been less outcry over GMOs, with more activism geared toward finding alternatives to the industrial food system. The growth in popularity of farmers’ markets is just one example. Might as well do it yourself if the industry doesn’t want to take care of it, right?
Despite the lull in GMO outcry, recent developments have brought it back to the forefront. For example, Monsanto has sold genetically modified sweet corn seeds to many farmers. This will be the first genetically modified vegetable eaten directly by humans, as most GMO corn, canola, and soy products are either fed to animals or added to processed foods.
On top of that, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced his agency will allow GE alfalfa to be cultivated, despite companies like Stoneyfield Yogurt, Whole Foods, and Organic Valley fighting against it. This is a pretty big concern for some dairy farmers, too, as alfalfa can easily cross-pollinate with the feed fed to their cows. As a result, organic milk as we know it is could be at risk.
These are just some of the many factors that have led to Californians working toward the 800,000 signatures needed in order to get GMO labeling on the ballot. If it goes through (and we can only hope it does), it could be the beginning of a new level of transparency in the food industry in the United States.