It’s Not Just a Label – Vote No
There are plenty of things in life to worry about, but the safety of the food supply is not one of them. Organic, conventional and genetically engineered
(GE) foods are all perfectly safe. Despite this fact, opponents to GE foods are intent on scaring the public into a yes vote for GE labeling.
GE Foods are Safe
As I mentioned in my Oct. 21 letter to the editor “Vote No on Food Labeling,” GE foods are meticulously scrutinized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before approval. Over 400 studies investigating the safety of GE foods have confirmed their safety, yet not one credible study
has shown them to be unsafe. The National Academy of Sciences, World Health
Organization and the American Medical Association all agree that GE foods are safe.
GE opponents have suggested that GE foods are not safe, because they were developed by large corporations and those corporations have manipulated the science or bought off regulators. According to our voters’ guide between 40 and 70 percent of all grocery items contain some GE food ingredients.
Does it really make sense that thousands of government scientists across three agencies of government would allow an ingredient to enter 70 percent of all grocery items that could harm consumers? Does it make sense that the National Academy of Science, World Health Organization and the American Medical Association would be ignorant of such a conspiracy or know it and still endorse it?
Nevertheless, if you are still not convinced that GE foods are safe you can simply buy organic foods. Even today, without Prop 37 any consumer can avoid all GE ingredients by purchasing organic food, because no GE ingredients are permitted in organic foods.
If you believe the food supply is safe, labeling is unnecessary. If you can already avoid GE foods by buying organic foods, labeling is unnecessary.
Many advocates for Prop 37 say the law will not cost very much. If all GE foods were labeled how could it not cost a fortune to label 40 to 70 percent of all food products sold in grocery stores along with the corrugated containers in which they are shipped?
While most voters will think of the direct cost of labeling a grocery item, the larger cost imposed by Prop 37 is that it would require the food industry to segregate GE corn and soybeans from non-GE corn and soybeans. No significant segregation system currently exists because GE crops and non-GE crops are recognized by FDA as the same product. Since GE food ingredients can be detected at parts per million, separate equipment would be required to harvest, convey, store, transport and process GE ingredients so they are not detected in non-GE foods. In addition to the cost of building separate harvesters, bins, silos and conveyers the food industry would need separate trucks and rail cars and a system to identify one from the other. This would be an enormous cost.
If Prop 37 Passes
If Prop 37 passes, most food companies will not label their products. They are likely to choose this path, because they are aware that the term “Genetically Engineered Food” scares consumers. Very few food companies will want to associate their brand with a term that scares their customers.
Furthermore, they will want to avoid the enormous cost of labeling the product and then holding, producing and distributing two sets of inventories of the same product for sale in only one state. Instead, most will tell their farmer suppliers not to send them any GE corn, soybeans or other genetically modified plant.
Under this scenario, food processors will avoid labeling by phasing out GE food ingredients. Supermarkets would provide further incentive, because supermarkets will not carry two versions of the same product – one conventional, the other labeled as containing GE ingredients. Of course, this is the desired outcome of the creators of Prop 37. The real intent is not to inform consumers, it’s the removal of all GE foods from the food system.
Harm to Farmers and the Environment
The majority of corn and soybean farmers use GE seeds to produce their crops because those seeds reduce the cost of production and are better for the environment. GE crops can be produced with fewer pesticides. The use of GE crops has cut the use of pesticides and reduced the need for many trips across fields to kill weeds with cultivators. With fewer trips on millions of acres, farmers reduce the use of diesel fuel, reduce air pollution and save their top soil from compaction and erosion. GE crops have reduced pesticide use by millions of pounds over the 20 years GE crops have been used.
With the passage of Prop 37, the market for GE crops will decrease, so farmers will again produce crops with more pesticides, more soil erosion, pollution and greater cost. Higher costs are hard for farmers to pass to large food companies so farmers must absorb those costs until they can gain enough market power to pass them on to their customers. If passed, Prop 37 will provide another incentive for farmers to increase the size of their farms.
Passage of Prop 37 will also lead to less innovation in agriculture, making U.S. farmers less completive in the global market. Fewer scientists will be needed for research and innovation in agriculture and many jobs in science and technology will be eliminated.
Dislike of Corporations is Not an Argument for Prop 37
Many people are hostile towards Monsanto for their aggressive legal and marketing tactics, and some people believe this along is justification for a
labeling law. However, a law that negatively impacts millions of people and
society can never be fairly justified because a single company will suffer from the legislation – so will hundreds of other small, medium and large technology companies, food companies and farmers. Some Prop 37 opponents further justify their support for labeling, because the same corporations are spending money to defend their interests from the negative effects of Prop 37. Are other impacted institutions, such as labor unions spending money to
defend their interests in this referendum? Should we vote against their
issue because they spend money to defend their position?
The Right to Know
Prop 37 is being marketed as consumer right to know legislation. The problem with this justification is that it implies that a “warning” is needed to protect consumers from the ill effects of genetically engineered food.
Thousands of scientists nationally and internationally have determined that GE foods are no different from those bred using conventional techniques. The overwhelming weight of the scientific evidence confirms that GE foods are completely safe.
If Prop 37 passes, the law will impose enormous costs on companies to label foods with a warning that the regulatory community has already validated as completely safe. The food industry will incur tremendous costs, but there will be no health benefit from incurring the cost. The question is not whether consumers deserve the right to know, but whether the additional information provides a benefit to consumers and whether the benefit outweighs the cost. What is the real value of this information and how should consumers use it?
Should consumers avoid GE foods when regulators have said they are safe?
Usually, organic alternatives are more expensive than conventionally grown foods. Would consumers still choose organic alternatives even if the prices were higher? Is it ethical to scare consumers into buying organic foods on the pretext that GE foods are unsafe when they are harmless? If GE foods are driven from the market will consumers still want to know what is in that food or how it is produced? What label should be mandated for those foods? At what point do we have sufficient information to make a practical consumer choice?
In my opinion, sufficient safeguards are in place to protect the food supply and consumers. We don’t need an expensive and burdensome law to revolutionize the way we make simple food choices. Vote no on Prop 37.
Jim Cranney, Auburn