Nov 7, 2012
By Debbie Phillips-Donaldson
Proposition 37, an initiative on the California election ballot that would have required manufacturers and retailers to label any products made with genetically modified ingredients and prohibited use of the label claim "natural" for any processed food products (including petfoods), has been defeated. As of the latest election results on Wednesday, November 7, the ballot measure trailed 53% to 47%, with 98% of the vote counted, according to Silicon Valley MercuryNews.com.
Supported by a coalition of natural food companies, chefs and food movement activists, Proposition 37 faced increasing opposition over the past few months by an even stronger coalition of large food companies like Monsanto and Hershey, along with farmers and farming associations, grocers associations, major California newspapers and, ultimately, pet industry organizations such as the Pet Food Institute and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Supporters said the measure was necessary because consumers deserved to know what's in their food, while opponents argued that the new labeling requirements would drive up costs for farmers and manufacturers that would, in turn, increase prices for consumers. Both sides poured millions of dollars into the fight, with opponents winning the money battle, too, US$46 million to US$9.2 million.
Opponents also argued that there is no scientific evidence to prove that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products are harmful to humans or animals; and in fact, 70% of our food supply includes GMOs. (A fact that inspired the development of Proposition 37 in the first place.)
"Even in the absence of any scientific evidence that says they're dangerous, [labels] will go ahead and show and convince people that [GMOs are] dangerous," said Kevin Folta, PhD, a biology professor at the University of Florida (quoted in a Huffington Post article). "I think the problem that we have is a supply and demand one. Once you're able to scare people away from 70% of the food that's out there, now you're going to see higher prices and fewer consumer choices, and that will affect the poorest people most."
So, basic economics won out -- no surprise considering that many US consumers, not to mention businesses and producers, are still struggling financially. "Prop. 37 would have imposed costly new regulations on California family farmers that no other state requires, putting us at a competitive disadvantage," said Jamie Johansson, an olive farmer in Oroville, California, quoted in the MercuryNews.com article.
Another factor, some opponents claimed, was in how the measure was worded. It probably didn't help supporters that their main argument was that 50 other countries have laws against use of GMOs or require that products that contain GMOs be labeled as such. (Americans tend to have a stubbornly independent streak.)
In his latest Petfood Insights column, Dr. David Dzanis explains what Proposition 37 would have meant for petfood labeling and any lasting ramifications for the industry from the ballot fight.
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