Just Label It: How California’s GMO Labeling Act Supports Consumer Health

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Fred Liers PhDThis fall is an exciting time for American consumers, who may soon be reading labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). That is because on November 6th, California voters go the polls to vote on Proposition 37, the GMO labeling Act. This is historic because it is the first time any Americans have ever voted on their right to know about GMOs in foods.

Consumers have demanded labels for genetically modified foods (GMOs) for years. In fact, ever since 1994 when GMO crops were commercialized on a large scale. Yet, there is no regulation of GMOs to this day in the US despite millions of signatures on petitions, numerous attempts to pass state labeling laws, and the fact the majority of consumers support GMO labeling. Indeed, most other nations have GMO labeling laws.

This entire situation will change if Proposition 37 passes. California then will implement a labeling law that will have far reaching impacts on other states and the nation.

A new GMO study came from Europe this month, showing absolutely horrific effects of GMOs on rats. Previous studies have come to similar conclusions, but this time the climate is far less favorable to GMOs because consumers are more educated about the potential health problems associated with GMO crops. As the scientific evidence mounts, companies like Monsanto are finding it much harder to discredit studies than they did just a few years ago.

The GMO issue is inextricably linked to organic foods, but somewhat different. Organic foods cannot legally contain GMOs (except within tolerance levels established in the standards). So, theoretically if you consume a diet of all organic foods, GMOs aren’t a problem for you.

Of course, it is well known that organics are more nutritious than so-called conventional foods. Even the recent, flawed Stanford study showed that organics are more nutritious despite the study’s counterintuitive conclusions that organic foods are no better than conventional ones. (This study has since been discredited due to its methods and because it was sponsored by agribusiness interests.)

Just as importantly, conventional produce exhibits far higher pesticide residues than organics. That’s no surprise, of course. Even if one believes false arguments that organics are not significantly better from a nutritional standpoint, there is no justification for ever higher pesticide levels on foods. Pesticides are highly toxic, and exposure to them is associated with a wide range of poor health conditions and abnormal development. So, organic foods are simply better.

(I will discuss my personal experience with organic foods in a separate post. It is enough to say for now that I can taste the difference and feel the difference, and that I am healthliest when I consume a 100% organic foods diet.)

The deeper problems of GMOs lie in 1) long-term mass contamination of non-GMO crops by GMOs, 2) large-scale infusion of GMOs into foods (currently unlabeled) sold across the country, 3) fundamental toxicity and harmfulness of GMOs, and 4) No regulation of GMOs (since not only are there no labeling laws, but determination of GMO safety is left to companies that make them, with the Federal Government virtually absent from the process).

Whether or not Proposition 37 passes, the foregoing issues will not simply disappear overnight. For example, contamination of non-GMO crops by GMOs means resources will need to be directed to ensuring the purity (via testing) of non-GMO foods.

Compliance with labeling laws may also be an issue. The companies making GMOs never wanted to allow consumers to know whether their foods contained GMOs. Testing for compliance would fall on the shoulders of food companies, the government, and possibly food distributors, or a combination of these players.

Foodmakers would probably find it easier to drop GMO ingredients from foods (especially if they know consumer don’t want them) rather than label GMO ingredients, pay for testing, and then watch sales plummet. However, given the pervasiveness of GMOs in our food system, it would represent a massive undertaking to find suitable non-GMO alternatives. 70% of US corn is GMO, for example.

GMOs are so toxic and dangerous that few people would want to consume them, if they knew how harmful they are to human health. Labeling is just a start, but expect a mass movement away from GMO foods. This is why GMO food companies have resisted any attempts at introducing labeling laws. It is also why GMO labeling should have been insisted upon as a basic “right to know” issue from the beginning.

As people come to realize the magnitude of danger to health (and the mass poisoning that has occurred in America during the past 18 years), they will no longer trust their food is safe, and will avoid GMOs.

There is currently no regulation of GMOs in the US. If Proposition 37 passes, it will be the first law of its kind in the nation. This presents an interesting case because the GMO companies will likely attempt to sue the state of California. They may try to claim that no state law can preempt a federal regulation. However, no federal regulation exists, only an informal ruling.

So there is no Federal law to preempt a US state law. The irony is that GMO companies successfully have prevented Federal regulation (through lobbying and “regulatory capture” via revolving door politics). With no Federal regulation in place, the California legislation would be difficult to defeat legally. Also, there would be a high probability that any subsequent Federal regulation would be based on the California law.

If the Federal Government fails to enact a GMO labeling law of its own in a timely fashion after the passage of Proposition 37 (despite requests by foodmakers eager to avoid a patchwork quilt of state regulations that will no doubt be enacted after California’s example), then the California law may become a de facto standard.

As momentum would gather for a single Federal law, expect GMO companies (and other vested interests) to attempt to weaken requirements in any way possible. A similar thing happened when California organic standards became the basis for the USDA Organic Standards.

Since the adoption of Federal organic standards, there has been an erosion of these standards as large corporations become involved. Corporations lobby for changes, amendments, and exceptions. For example, they join standards-setting boards, resulting in the allowing of exceptions to the rules (e.g., the addition of synthetic substances) to the list of acceptable ingredients. They also push for the allowance of production methods for organic products that are similar to conventional foods.

Another instance of historic proportions was the passage of California’s Proposition 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.” Under this law, any product sold in the state of California must be labeled if it contains materials deemed toxic or hazardous by the state’s office of environmental health.

Unlike the organic standards, no other state or the Federal Government has enacted a similar law to California Proposition 65. That is, industry lobbyists have successfully prevented passage of such laws in other jurisdictions.

However, due to the sheer size and economic power of California, makers of consumer products typically choose to reformulate their products using safer, non-toxic (or less toxic) ingredients to conform to the California Proposition 65 law rather than have their products labeled as containing materials known to the state to be hazardous for human health (e.g., cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm). These products are then sold nationally or internationally. This is how a California law makes products safer for people in other states and countries. In effect, this is legislative leadership.

The passage of Proposition 37 is not guaranteed. However, if it passes, it will be a great cause for celebration. The beauty of the California initiative system is that it has the potential to accomplish what our national agencies responsible for health have so far failed to do. That is, protect our health and defend our right to know what is in our food.

If you live in California, please vote “yes” on Proposition 37. If you do not live in California, see the resources below to see how you can volunteer, or otherwise help to support its passage.








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