Proposition 37 Doesn’t Go Far Enough

California’s Proposition 37, the awkwardly titled “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” will come to us for a vote in November’s election. The proponents say, “You should have the right to know what is in your food.” That statement is hard to argue. Our food provides our bodies with energy to go about our day. We should know what we are eating.

What will Prop 37 do? According to the Legislative Analyst, “This measure makes several changes to state law to explicitly require the regulation of GE foods. Specifically, it (1) requires that most GE foods sold be properly labeled, (2) requires DPH [California’s Department of Public Health] to regulate the labeling of such foods, and (3) allows individuals to sue food manufacturers who violate the measure’s labeling provisions.”[1]

That’s it? That is hardly enough for people to make informed decisions. We can all agree that knowing what is in our food is rather a good thing. But passage of Proposition 37 does not give you all the necessary information to learn what really is in your food. If 37’s goal is to educate people about their choices (which it purports to do) it should be greatly expanded so that people are genuinely informed.

Californians do need food labels that provide information about what is in their food.

Here are just a few ideas for the labels:

Apples contain chemicals. “Chemical-Free” apples are no more possible than oxygen-free air.

Notice: This food contains chemicals.

It may be a failure of our schools or “No Child Left Behind” but basic knowledge of chemistry has faded from our memories. Otherwise why would we see ads for “chemical-free” food?
Under my expanded version of 37, an apple would have a label listing its chemical components. Then we could say, “A serving of H2O, vegetable oils, sugars, starch, carotene, tocopherol (E306), riboflavin (E101), nicotinamide, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, ascorbic acid (E300), hexadecanoic acid, stearic acid (E570), oleic acid, linoleic acid, malic acid (E296), oxalic acid, salicylic acid, purines, sodium, potassium, manganese, iron, copper, zinc, phosphorous, antioxidants, and chloride keeps the doctor away.”[2]

I am sorry to tell you that all foods contain chemicals. There is no way around that. We can no more have chemical-free food than we can have oxygen-free air.

Caution: This food contains toxic chemical pesticides and chemicals that are known to the State of California to cause cancer and/or mutations.

All the vegetative stuff we eat, fruits, vegetables, spices, coffees, teas, and the like, contain chemicals, some of which are produced by the plant to ward off pests. In other words, the plant is producing its own natural pesticide.
“Eating food is risky,” said the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor Anne Glover, “Most of us forget that most plants are toxic, and it’s only because we cook them, or the quantity that we eat them in, that makes them suitable.”[3]
Tomatoes contain benzaldehyde, caffeic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and quercetin glycosides. Orange juice and black peppers harbor d-limonene. The Brussels sprout, cabbages, cauliflower, collard greens, and horseradishes contain allyl isothiocyanate. And neochlorogenic acid lurks in apples, apricots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cherries, coffee, kale, peaches, and pears. The list goes on.

Dr. Bruce Ames says, “No human diet can be free of naturally occurring chemicals that are rodent carcinogens. Of the chemicals that people eat, 99.99% are natural….We eat roughly 1,500 milligrams of [plant produced pesticides] per day.”

[4]

Let us label a simple cabbage (courtesy of Dr. Ames’s paper published in the Proceedings of Natural Sciences) for only its 49 natural pesticides and metabolites:

Glucosinolates:
2-propenyl glucosinolate (sinigrin), 3-methylthiopropyl glucosinolate, 3-methylsulfinylpropyl glucosinolate, 3-butenyl glucosinolate, 2-hydroxy-3-butenylglucosinolate, 4-methylthiobutyl glucosinolate, 4-methylsulfinylbutyl glucosinolate, 4methylsulfonylbutyl glucosinolate, benzyl glucosinolate, 2-phenylethyl glucosinolate, propyl glucosinolate, and butyl glucosinolate.

Indole glucosinolates and related indoles:
3-indolylmethyl glucosinolate (glucobrassicin), 1-methoxy-3-indolylmethyl glucosinolate (neoglucobrassicin), indole-3-carbinol, indole-3-acetonitrile, and bis(3-indolyl)methane.

Isothiocyanates and goitrin:

alylisothiocyanate, 3-methylthiopropylisothiocyanate, 3-methylsulfinylpropylisothiocyanate, 3-butenyl isothiocyanate, 5-vinyloxazolidine-2-thione (goitrin), 4-methylthiobutylisothiocyanate, 4-methylsulfinylbutylisothiocyanate, 4-methylsulfonylbutyl isothiocyanate, 4-pentenyl isothiocyanate, benzyl isothiocyanate, phenylethyl isothiocyanate.

Cyanides:
1-cyano-2,3-epithiopropane, 1-cyano-3,4-epithiobutane, 1-cyano-3,4-epithiopentane, threo-1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3,4-epithiobutane, erythro-1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3,4-epithiobutane, 2-phenylpropionitrile, alylcyanide,* 1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3-butene, 1-cyano-3- methylsulfinylpropane, and 1-cyano-4-methylsulfinylbutane.

Terpenes:
menthol, neomenthol, isomenthol, and carvone. Phenols: 2-methoxyphenol, 3-caffoylquinic acid (chlorogenic acid), 4-caffoylquinic acid, 5-caffoylquinic acid (neochlorogenic acid), 4-(p-coumaroyl)quinicacid, 5-(p-coumaroyl)quinicacid, and 5-feruloylquinic acid.

Let’s be honest: if we saw this list on a label, we would politely replace it on the shelf and decline to buy it, wouldn’t we? Even if it were in the Organics section of the produce department. I am not trying to scare you; I am trying to make the point that all foods are made up of chemicals and some of those at high dosages have caused cancers in mice and rats. Dose makes the poison.

Caution: This food was grown using toxic chemicals that are also known to the State of California to be toxic and can cause cancer.

Organic growers use “natural” pesticides; one of the most common is copper sulfate (CuSO4), a herbicide and fungicide. Copper sulfate has “been shown to have chronic effects” at low doses, writes Christie Wilcox, a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawaii, “In animals, chronic exposure has led to anemia, stunted growth, and degenerative disease. Furthermore, copper sulfate has been shown to disrupt reproduction and development, including inhibition of sperm development, loss of fertility, and lasting effects from in-utero exposure. Copper sulfate is also mutagenic and carcinogenic.”[5] Other than that, it is perfectly safe to use and no problem. When we insist on organic foods being grown with “only” copper sulfate, we are keeping the grower from using other pesticides and herbicides that have a shorter shelf life and, dare I say it, may even be less harmful to the farmer. Copper sulfate is approved simply because it was the only herbicide available 100 years ago, and is therefore considered “natural”—not because it is inherently good.

Notice: This organic food was produced in ways that exposed farm workers to poisons and may contain traces of the pesticide. Wash thoroughly.

CuSO4 is two to ten times more poisonous than the synthetic alternative, chlorpyrifos, used in conventional farming. Christie Wilcox notes, “organic pesticides do make farmers sick. They do bioaccumulate. They do harm non-target species….[and] organic alternatives are applied in higher concentrations and more frequently because they’re less effective at controlling the species they’re meant to kill.” Other than that, they are perfectly safe to use and no problem because it is a natural chemical pesticide, right? So farmers have to risk developing unnecessary illness so I can feel righteous about the food I am eating.

Notice: This certified organic food has no more nutritional value than conventionally grown food despite the higher price.

Numerous scientific studies have found no difference in nutritional value between organically produced food and food produced using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Plants do not distinguish between chemicals they need for growth being provided by manure or fossil-fuel derived chemicals.

Studies have borne out this fact time after time. I can understand skeptics not trusting government studies (“the study’s authors were paid by big ag!”), but have you ever heard of the Mayo Clinic being accused of taking sides?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food.” The Mayo Clinic is not alone. Not only do the British, French, and Swedish governments agree too. Here is what the UK’s Food Standards Agency says, “In our view the current scientific evidence does not show that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Nor are we alone in this assessment. For instance, the French Food Safety Agency (AFSSA) has recently published a comprehensive 128-page review which concludes that there is no difference in terms of food safety and nutrition. Also, the Swedish National Food Administration’s recent research report finds no nutritional benefits of organic food.”

It costs more due to lower yields and higher labor costs (and organically-certified food currently fetches a higher price); not because it is more nutritious. More is labor needed to produce organically-certified food (weeding and hoeing doesn’t come cheap, not to mention the damage tilling does to the microorganisms in soil). When you take into account the need to let organic fields go fallow, organic practices do not yield as much per acre as conventionally produced crops.

Notice: This organic food may not be more flavorful than conventionally grown food.

“Okay, now you have done it,” I hear you say, “That just cannot be true. I know it tastes better.” A 2002 report for the British Food Standards Agency said, “While there are reports indicating that organic and conventional fruits and vegetables may differ on a variety of sensory qualities, the findings are inconsistent.” In other words, they found mixed results: some experiments indicated that conventional tasted better, other experiments that indicated organic tasted better, others found no difference.[6]

Better yet, do not take their word for it, do your own double-blind test. Pick out similar (e.g., store bought or garden grown but compare like with like) organically grown and conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. Then have someone else prepare and mark the underside of the dish. Then have another person serve them to you and your friends. Pick out the ones you think taste better.

If you are like the participants in Penn & Teller’s test (available on YouTube, where they cut a banana in half and asked the participants which was organic), you will believe you can taste a difference. The participants in the test were told that one half was organically grown, the other conventionally grown. Most people decided they could tell a real difference between the two, when in fact they were taking bites of different halves of the exact same banana. It is difficult to measure the effect the mind has in effecting your perception of taste. That is why you must do a double-blind test.

Caution: Wash thoroughly. Organic food may be higher in E coli and other pathogens that are hazardous to your health.

According to a post on the Scientific American website, “Between 1990 and 2001, over 10,000 people fell ill due to foods contaminated with pathogens like E. coli, and many have organic foods to blame. That’s because organic foods tend to have higher levels of potential pathogens.”[8],[9]

And as a side note, a recent study about the effects of San Francisco’s ban on plastic bags, emergency room visits for E. coli infections spiked and remained high as soon as the ban went into effect. While the regulators are concerned that an organic food touching a nonorganic food contaminates the organic food, I believe the concern should be in the reverse direction: should organic food touch my conventionally grown food, I would fear E. coli transfer.

Notice: This meat contains hormones.

While they may be natural, they are hormones. All animals (and plants) use chemicals to regulate their functioning in their environments.

Notice: This food contains DNA and RNA.

All food contains genes and its building blocks: DNA and RNA. We cannot have food without chemicals, hormones, and DNA and RNA. Food was living matter in the recent past, and you just cannot escape these components of living matter. ALL foods contain hormones, genes, and DNA and RNA, even certified-organic food.

This should not need saying but it does; all food contains genes and its building blocks, DNA and RNA. A 2010 national study, 41 percent of young adults were not sure that the statement, “Ordinary tomatoes, the ones we normally eat, do not have genes whereas genetically modified tomatoes do” was false; 17 percent thought it was “probably false,” and only 42 percent knew it was “definitely false.” For the record, the statement is false.

Caution: This food contains the result of cross-breeding; 10,000 to 300,000 recombined genes have changed and their responses remain, at best, a guess.

While GE foods have had 1 to 3 genes replaced, standard cross-breeding rearranges 10,000 to 300,000 genes “depending on the species,” says Dr. Kevin Folta, an expert in Molecular Biology.[10]

Caution: Amounts and types of proteins and metabolites present varies from plant to plant and may have been altered as a response to stress while growing in the field.

According to Dr. Anastasia Bodnar of Biology Fortified, a website dedicated science-based information and fostering discussion about agriculture, “Two genetically identical plants grown in slightly different environments, such as different temperatures” will exhibit significantly different gene expression profiles and “even two identical plants in the same environment will have some differences.”[11]

Notice: This certified-organic food needed more land than food grown with man-made fertilizers, genetically engineered foods, or pesticides.

Organic farms average 70 percent to 80 percent of the yield of conventional farms. And organic farmers are losing ground as GE crops increase in usage because, according to a report by the National Research Council, “Crops with traits that provide resistance to some herbicides and to specific insect pests have benefited adopting farmers, by reducing crop losses to insect damage, by increasing flexibility in time management, and by facilitating the use of more environmentally friendly pesticides and tillage practices.”[12]

While its supporters say, “It doesn’t cost anything to include information on a label,”[13] that is not quite true. California’s Legislative Analyst estimates that the requirement will cost us Californians (through increased taxes or budget cuts to other services elsewhere), “a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually.”[14] That’s just the state’s administrative costs; that estimate does not include the higher food prices you and I will pay for settlements of lawsuits against food companies allowed under this proposition, and the added time to print and place labels on food or restock the shelves with politically correct food (which, unless the food is organic, the store retailer (even a Farmer’s Market! will need get sworn affidavits for the food’s origin).

Contrary to claims, it will cost quite a lot to label GE foods. Not to us in California or the U.S., mind you,because there will not be any GE to label. Everywhere GE labels have been introduced, GE food has not made it to the shelves.

Good, right?

Not necessarily if Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, is correct. Once the U.S. market is gone (as California goes, so goes the nation) there will be major repercussions throughout the developing world. “The stakes for the debate on GMOs could hardly be higher for nature, people and conservation,” Kareiva says. “Agriculture takes up more land and consumes more water than any other activity on Earth. And agriculture is bound to eat up even more land and water as the human population soon zips past 7 billion on its way to 9 billion by 2050.

“At the same time, using technology to increase agricultural yields (meaning increases in the calories and nutritional value generated per acre of land) and increase efficiencies in ag’s water use would mean sparing land and water for nature. GMOs could play a crucial part in this equation. For example, recently published greenhouse studies reveal that genetically engineered cassava can store four times the amount of protein compared to regular cassava. Plants engineered for enhanced yields or improved nutritional value could be a boon to humanity and the planet.”

So, while we may have the luxury to be selfish, choose USDA certified-organic and refuse GE, the rest of the world cannot. Which brings up another label:

Notice: Due to Proposition 37, many African farmers cannot sell their produce here and, as a result, remain undernourished and impoverished.

Prop 37 supporters will tell you that they are simply trying to shine a light on the truth about our food and that “Monsanto and some other chemical and agricultural biotech companies are desperate to keep the public in the dark about what is really in their food,” Gary Ruskin, an Oakland-based manager for the campaign, told Bloomberg news in an April 30 interview. But, it is they who do not want to illuminate the debate, otherwise they would have written Prop 37 to show what is really in your food and what your food choices really mean to our environment.

Not really. Proposition 37 appears to be an old story: large companies lobbying the government to hobble their competitors and thus increase their own profits.[16] The proposition’s backers include Big Karma companies such as Mercola.com Health Resources LLC, Nature’s Path Foods Inc. and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps All-One-God-Faith Inc.[17] All of which could see their bottom lines improved if Prop 37 is passed. The proposition’s drafter, lawyer James Wheaton, also stands to make tidy sums of money through lawsuits, just as he did following the passage of Proposition 65. And, Big Organic is licking its chops for a bigger share of profits. “The burning question for us all then becomes how—and how quickly—can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?” Organic Consumers Association Director Ronnie Cummins wrote in an open letter earlier this month.[18]

Once you know the truth (about GE and its opponents and natural chemicals and natural pesticides), it will set you free. Bon appétit.

Disclosure: To my knowledge, I own no shares in any agricultural biotech company. I receive no compensation, other than lower prices at the market, from any biotech firms or organizations or any farming cooperative, organization, lobbyist, company, etc. Since I buy at Costco, I do eat and buy organic food. I also compost and recycle.

Sources:

  1. Analysis by Legislative Analyst (https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/vig-public-display/110612-general-election/prop-37/prop-37-leg-analysis.pdf&sa=U&ei=jD81UMjmAZSr2AXb74DQAQ&ved=0CAUQFjAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNH_AVCC5VkR4e3K8I-4WaFvXcvUgg)
  2. http://www.wijnne.com/we-love-chemistry-poster/
  3. ”No risk with GMO food, says EU chief scientific advisor” http://www.euractiv.com/innovation-enterprise/commission-science-supremo-endor-news-514072 accessed 18 August 2012
  4. “Our estimate of 1.5 g of natural pesticides per person per day is based on the content of toxins in the major plant foods(e.g.,13g of roasted coffee per person per day contains about 765mg of chlorogenic acid, neochlorogenic acid,caffeic acid,and caffeine; see refs. 22 and 23 and Table 2). Phenolics from other plants are estimated to contribute another several hundred milligrams of toxins. Flavonoids and glucosinolates account for several hundred milligrams; potato and tomato toxins may contribute another hundred, and saponins from legumes another hundred. Grains such as white flour and white rice contribute very litle,but whole wheat, brown rice, and corn (maize) may contribute several hundred milligrams more.”“27 natural pesticides that are rodent carcinogens are present in the following foods: anise, apple, apricot, banana, basil, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, caraway, carrot, cauliflower, celery, cherries, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa, coffee, collard greens, comfrey herb tea, currants, dill, eggplant, endive, fennel, grapefruit juice, grapes, guava, honey, honeydew melon, horseradish, kale, lentils, lettuce, mango, mushrooms, mustard, nutmeg, orange juice, parsley, parsnip, peach, pear, peas, black pepper, pineapple, plum, potato, radish, raspberries, rosemary, sesame seeds, tarragon, tea, tomato, and turnip. Thus, it is probable that almost every fruit and vegetable in the supermarket contains natural plant pesticides that are rodent carcinogens. The levels of these 27 rodent carcinogens in the above plants are commonly thousands of times higher than the levels of synthetic pesticides.”Ames, Bruce N., M Profet, and Lois Swirsky Gold, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 87, pp. 7777-7781, October 1990, Medical Sciences, “Dietary pesticides (99.99% all natural)” www.pnas.org/content/87/19/7777.full.pdf  accessed 17 October 2010
  5. Source: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/08/15/organic_myths_revisited/ accessed 23 August 2012
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11833635 accessed 23 August 2012
  7. Local, organic, natural foods not always safer as many small farms are exempt from laws Associated Press http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/local-organic-and-natural-food-not-always-safer-as-smaller-farms-are-exempt-from-laws/2011/10/25/gIQAPoEhGM_story.html accessed October 26, 2011
  8. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/07/18/mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/ accessed 22 August 2012
  9. “Tauxe et al. have reviewed foodborne disease and microbial pathogens associated with fresh produce in order to identify potential hazards and control strategies. Although the US Centers for Disease Control keep a national database on food poisoning outbreaks and their epidemiology, they have not yet specifically compared the microbiological risk of organically and conventionally grown foods. Tauxe et al. acknowledge that the increased use of manure rather than chemical fertilizers (by many farmers) may play a role in the increased incidence of poisoning from pathogens such as Salmonella spp. and E. coli 0157:H7, along with many other changes in food production and food consumption patterns. These authors also suggest that traditional composting practices (perhaps without a defined heat treatment) may now not be sufficient to render animal manure safe for use on vegetables with the advent of new pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7. Hussein has recently reviewed the sources of E. coli 0157:H7 contamination on beef and dairy farms and also discussed management practices (for example, involving animal, manure, waterand diet-related factors) that may help to reduce the risk of contamination. Gagliardi and Karns209 reported that tillage practice, soil type, and method of pathogen delivery (e.g., from manure or from run-off) affect the movement of E. coli 0157:H7, and that soluble nitrogen may also increase the movement of this pathogen. Clearly, organic certifying agencies need to constantly review their standards for composting in light of the developing knowledge in this area of food safety.Bourn, Diane and John Prescott “A Comparison of the Nutritional Value, Sensory Qualities, and Food Safety of Organically and Conventionally Produced Foods.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11833635 accessed 6 January 2012
  10. http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/06/more-frankenfood-paradox.html accessed 28 June 2012.
  11.  Miller, J. D. (2012, Spring). Food: Shared, Prepared, Organic, and Genetically Modified. A Quarterly Research Report from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, Volume 1 Issue 3, p. 5.
  12. “Under controlled growth conditions, they found no reproducible changes for the approximately 24,000 genes screened when comparing transgenic lines with their wild-type progenitor. Their conclusion was that the stable insertion of T-DNA did not cause detectable pleiotropic effects to the transcriptome. This finding was not obvious since, due to the gene density on the Arabidopsis genome, insertion could have been anticipated to cause major disturbances altering gene expression. Strikingly, under abiotic stresses (salt, drought, cold, and heat), the authors found approximately 8,000 genes (35% of the genome) with changed expression in both wild-type and transgenic plants.”“Evaluation of Genetically Engineered Crops Using Transcriptomic, Proteomic, and Metabolomic Profiling Techniques,” by Agnès E. Ricroch, Jean B. Bergé and Marcel Kuntz. http://m.plantphysiol.org/content/155/4/1752.long accessed 21 August 2012
  13. National Research Council. “Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States.” National Academies Press. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12804 accessed 21 July 2012
  14. Argument in favor of Proposition 37. www.sos.ca.gov/elections/vig-public-display/110612-general-election/prop-37/prop-37-arg-in-favor.pdf accessed 22 August 2012
  15. “This measure would result in additional state costs for DPH to regulate the labeling of GE foods, such as reviewing documents and performing periodic inspections to determine whether the foods are actually being sold with the correct labels. Depending on how and the extent to which the department chooses to implement these regulations (such as how often it chose to inspect grocery stores), these costs could range from a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually.” [note: emphasis in the original text]“Analysis by the Legislative Analyst –Proposition 37.” https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/vig-public-display/110612-general-election/prop-37/prop-37-leg-analysis.pdf&sa=U&ei=jD81UMjmAZSr2AXb74DQAQ&ved=0CAUQFjAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNH_AVCC5VkR4e3K8I-4WaFvXcvUgg accessed 22 August 2012
  16. Kaskey, Jack “California Heads for Vote on Modified Food Labeling” Bloomberg http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-02/california-heads-for-vote-on-modified-food-labeling.html accessed 3 May 2012.
  17. “The petition for Proposition 37 was filed and launched by notorious trial lawyer James Wheaton . The corporations that back the initiative include Nature’s Path, which sells $300 million worth of organic cereals annually and has pledged $500,000 to the anti-science campaign and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, a private company with revenues of $50 million annually derived from peddling organic soaps and has given $300,000. The biggest donor is Mercola Health Resources run by Chicago osteopath and self-styled alternative medicine guru Joseph Mercola, who promotes his sketchy supplements through his online health newsletter. Mercola has donated $800,000 to the campaign.”Ronald Bailey | August 14, 2012 “California Initiative Puts Profit Ahead of Science” – Reason.com http://reason.com/archives/2012/08/14/california-initiative-puts-profit-ahead accessed 14 August 24, 2012
  18. For more on the company’s founder, see “Supplements: Not mystical anticancer magic” http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2012/05/supplements_not_mystical_anticancer_magic.php accessed 9 May 2012
  19. Open Letter to the Organic Community: The California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/08/02-0

 

More Reading:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post to Twitter

Analysis by the Legislative Analyst of Proposition 37, the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.”

English: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Cr...

Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. HT = herbicide tolerance. BT = insect resistance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This the text of the analysis done by the Legislative Analyst on the proposed Proposition 37, the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.” (PDF file here)



Genetically Engineered Foods. Mandatory Labeling. Initiative Statute.

Background

Genetically Engineered (GE) Foods. Genetic engineering is the process of changing the genetic material of a living organism to produce some desired change in that organisms 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 plants resistance to pests or to allow a plan to withstand the use of pesticides. Some of the most common GE crops include varieties of corn and soybeans. In 2011, 88 percent of all corn and 94 percent of all soybeans produced in the US were grown from GE seats. Other common GE crops include alfalfa, canola, cotton, papaya, sugar beets, and zucchini. In addition, GE crops are used to make food ingredients (such as high fructose corn syrup) that are often included in processed foods (meaning foods that are not raw agricultural crops). According to some estimates, 40 to 70 percent of food products sold in grocery stores in California contain some GE ingredients.

Federal Regulation. Federal law does not specifically require the regulation of GE foods. However, the U.S Department of Agriculture currently places some restrictions on the use of GE crops that are shown to cause harm to other plants. In addition, the U.S. Food and drug administration is responsible for ensuring that most foods (regardless of whether they are genetically engineered) and food additives are safe and properly labeled.

State Regulation. Who Under existing law, California agencies are not specifically required to regulate GE foods. However the Department of Public Health (DPH) is responsible for regulating the safety and labeling of most foods.

Proposal.

This measure makes several changes to state law to explicitly require the regulation of GE foods. Specifically, it (1) requires that most GE foods sold be properly labeled, (2) requires DPH to regulate the labeling of such foods, and (3) allows individuals to sue food manufacturers who violate the measure’s labeling provisions.

Labeling of Foods. This measure requires that GE foods sold at retail in the state be clearly labeled as genetically engineered. Specifically, the measure requires that raw foods (such as fruits and vegetables) that produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering be labeled with the words “Genetically Engineered”on the front package or label. If the item is not separately packaged or does not have a label, these words must appear on the shelf or been where the item is displayed for sale. The measure also requires the processed foods produced entirely or in part through genetic engineering be labeled with the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Maybe Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Retailers (such as grocery stores) would be primarily responsible for complying with the measure by ensuring that their food products are correctly labeled. Products that are labeled as GE would be in compliance. For each product that is not labeled as GE, a retailer generally must be able to document why that product is exempt from labeling. There are two main ways in which a retailer could document that such a product is exempt: (1) by obtaining a sworn statement from the provider of the product (such as a wholesaler) indicating that the product has not been intentionally or knowingly genetically engineered or (2) by receiving independent certification that the product does not contain GE ingredients. Other entities throughout the food supply chain (such as farmers and food manufacturers) may also be responsible for maintaining these records. The measure also excludes certain food products from the above labeling requirements. For example, alcoholic beverages, organic foods, and restaurant food and other prepared foods intended to be eaten immediately would not have to be labeled. Animal products—such as beef or chicken—that were not directly produced through genetic engineering would also be exempted regardless of whether the animal had been fed GE crops.

In addition, the measure prohibits the use of terms such as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” and “all natural” in the labeling and advertising of GE foods. Given the way the measure is written, there is a possibility that these restrictions would be interpreted by the courts to apply to all some processed foods regardless of whether they are genetically engineered. [note: the change of the text from all to some was ordered by Judge Michael Kenny in August ]

State regulation. The labeling requirements for GE foods under this measure would be regulated by DPH as part of its existing responsibility to regulate the safety and labeling of foods. The measure allows the department to adopt regulations that it determines are necessary to carry out the measure. For example, DPH would need to develop regulations that describe the sampling procedures for determining whether foods contain GE ingredients.

Litigation to enforce the measure. Violations of the measure could be prosecuted by the state, local, or private parties. It allows the court to award these parties all reasonable costs incurred in investigating and prosecuting the action. In addition, the measure specifies that consumers could sue for violations of the measures requirements under the state Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which allows consumers to sue without needing to demonstrate any specific damage occurred as a result of the alleged violation.



Fiscal Effects

Increase in State Administrative Costs. This measure would result in additional state costs for DPH to regulate the labeling of GE foods, such as reviewing documents and performing periodic inspections to determine whether the foods are actually being sold with the correct labels. Depending on how and the extent to which the department chooses to implement these regulations (such as how often it chose to inspect grocery stores), these costs could range from a few hundred thousand dollars to over $1 million annually. [note: emphasis in the original text]

Potential increase in Costs Associated with Litigation. As described above, this measure allows individuals to sue for violations of the labeling requirements. As this would increase the number of cases filed in state courts, the state and counties would incorporate additional costs to process and hear the additional cases. The extent of these costs would depend on the number of cases filed, the number of cases prosecuted by state and local governments, and how they are decided by the courts. Some of the increased course costs would be supported by the court filing fees that the parties involved in each case would be required to pay under existing law. In the context of overall court spending, these costs are not likely to be significant in the longer run.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post to Twitter

No One Expects the Organics Inquisition

No expects the Organics Inquisition.

Here is this month’s Green Chain column for the Lake County Record-Bee:

In 312, Roman Emperor Constantine was told in a dream to paint a cross on his army’s shields. Based on that dream, he commanded his generals to have crosses put on pretty much everything. If it went into battle, it had a cross on it. And lo, when his guys faced an army twice the size of his, his army smote them real bad and got pre-medieval on their butts; and Constantine did declare, “Hot Damascus, it worked!” (Obviously, I am paraphrasing; I don’t speak Latin.)

So, Constantine became a Christian, sort of.

In 325, he, being the ruler of the Roman Empire and all, thought he should nail down what it was he believed. So he rounded up a passel of leaders of the early Christian movement and sat them down in the city of Nicaea. The Council of Nicaea, as it came to be known, palavered about a month, wrote down a statement of what they all agreed on (the Nicene Creed), approved some texts for use and disallowed others. All of this pleased some and displeased others. But at the end they all shook hands, said, “Well, that’s that,” and called it “good.”

This consensus resulted in “winners” and “losers” throughout the known world. Schisms, splinters and fractures appeared before the ink had dried on the papyrus. Subsequent Councils worked on those, and patched some, broke others, and created more. Today the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and other Christian denominations still do not agree on many articles and practices of their faith, each one claiming to hold to the true faith.

The point is (lest you think Green Chain should have been placed in the Religion section of the paper) that just as the government tried to get everyone to agree on beliefs in the fourth century, today the green faith roils with dissension regarding its Organic doctrine’s beliefs and practices.

The New York Times published an article titled, “Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies’ Influence” on July 7 profiling the founder of Eden Foods, Michael J. Potter, and his quixotic battle against people who do not believe in Organic as he does. According to Potter, heretics have infiltrated the Ecumenical Council—strike that, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

A little history is in order. In 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Organic Foods Production Act creating the National Organic Program (NOP). This act placed the Department of Agriculture in charge of administrating the program and naming the 15 members of the NOSB, who were to “assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in organic production” and advise the Secretary of Agriculture on implementing the program.

Harry Potter

No, sorry, not Harry Potter, Michael Potter.

As a result, the NOSB passes judgment on what is or is not kosher—I mean, what can or cannot be used to produce organic food. In fact, the NOSB has approved a number of non-organic items such as baking soda used in the baking of organic bread.

According to the NY Times’ article, the thrust of Michael Potter’s complaint is that many on the board have connections with, gasp, non-believing big companies. (Yep, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Dole, General-Mills, Kraft, M&M Mars, all make organic foods.) And, he accuses these interlopers of voting to allow blasphemous ingredients, such as carrageenan, a substance derived from seaweed used in cooking, to pass as organic. So incensed is he that he refuses to put the certified-organic label on his own company’s products, which are so much purer, more authentic, and more truly organic than the so-called certified-organic products being passed off as the real deal to an unwitting public.

(Well, I, for one, am shocked, shocked to find that big, profit-motivated companies have jumped into the market. Simply put, organic products fetch a premium price.)

This kerfuffle is not about efficacy but ideological purity. As blogger, Andrew Potter notes, “….[T]he question of whether these various ‘synthetics’ should be allowed or not is entirely political.” And not whether any of the items “are healthy, or good for the environment, or contribute to the taste of the product.”

In the world of ideological purity, nothing matters as much as remaining true to the ideal of the ethos, and only those pure of heart, such as Michael Potter, can divine such things.

It is soon time for the Organics Inquisition.

Sources:

“According to Lactantius, Constantine was visited by a dream the night before the battle, wherein he was advised ‘to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers…by means of a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent round, he marked Christ on their shields.’” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_I#Constantine.27s_army_adopts_the_Christian_cross (accessed July 14, 2012)

“In 325 CE Constantine called the Council of Nicaea, the first so-called Ecumenical Council of the church, that is the first council at which bishops from around the world were brought together in order to establish a consensus on major points of faith and practice.” – Ehrman, Bart. “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew.” Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2003.

Strom, Stephanie. “Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies’ Influence.” New York Times. July 7, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/business/organic-food-purists-worry-about-big-companies-influence.html (accessed July 14, 2012)

“What is interesting about the debate as it plays out in this article is that the question of whether these various ‘synthetics’ should be allowed or not is entirely political. That is, Strom goes the entire article without ever confronting what should be the central issue, which is whether any of the controversial ingredients or inputs are healthy, or good for the environment, or contribute to the taste of the product.” Potter, Andrew. “The church of organic.” The Authenticity Hoax – Blog. July 9, 2012. http://authenticityhoax.squarespace.com/blog/2012/7/9/the-church-of-organic.html (accessed July 12, 2012)

Post to Twitter