GM Food Label Initiative Makes California Ballot


(WSJ) — Opponents of genetically modified foods are making headway in California with a proposed ballot initiative that would require food companies to label many products containing such ingredients.

Backers of the initiative, including consumer activists and organic-food groups, said Wednesday they had submitted nearly double the number of signatures required by the state to place the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. California officials will take at least several weeks to certify the initiative, but people on both sides of the issue expect it to appear on the ballot.

The proposal, which faces opposition from big agribusiness and food companies, puts California at the center of a wider debate over genetically engineered foods that has gained new life in the U.S.

In the past year, lawmakers in about 20 states, including New York, Connecticut and Vermont, have introduced bills that would require similar labeling rules, although none has become law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Genetically modified foods have been part of the American diet since the 1990s, and U.S. consumers have generally made little fuss about the products. Breakfast cereal, salad dressing and other processed foods contain corn, soybeans and other foods grown from genetically modified seeds.

Europeans, by contrast, have long been skeptical about the foods and about biotechnology in general. The European Union — as well as Japan, Australia, Brazil and others — requires that genetically engineered foods be labeled.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says genetically modified foods aren’t any less safe than conventional foods, and it doesn’t require labeling. Some scientists argue the foods require further study but say that there are no known health risks associated with them.

Opposition to the California proposal is being led by a group of genetically modified seed producers, including Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., and by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington-based industry group whose 300 members include Coca-Cola Co., ConAgra Foods Inc. and Kellogg Co.

Opponents of the initiative say the labels would mislead consumers into thinking there are health risks associated with the products.

“Food manufacturers who believe their customers want such information can label their products if they choose to do so,” Monsanto spokeswoman Sara Miller said.

The California ballot initiative would require foods to carry a label if more than 0.5{fd15d42d1b024b97d6d50958be27cc8145b6addb99e015780abccf2984117bb0} of the product consists of a genetically modified ingredient. The proposal exempts meat, dairy foods and beer.

Organizers of the California effort — known as the California Right to Know campaign — held rallies Wednesday in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego to celebrate the collection of nearly one million signatures backing the ballot effort.

Critics of genetically engineered foods see California as a favorable venue. “This is definitely the best hope we have for getting a labeling law, and we think we’re going to win,” said Gary Ruskin, the campaign manager of the group backing the initiative.

Supporters say they are encouraged by surveys that show many Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. In October 2010, 93{fd15d42d1b024b97d6d50958be27cc8145b6addb99e015780abccf2984117bb0} of people responding to a nationwide telephone poll by Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio said foods should be labeled to indicate whether they have been genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients.

A more recent but smaller poll of 500 California adults by San Francisco television station KCBS found 91{fd15d42d1b024b97d6d50958be27cc8145b6addb99e015780abccf2984117bb0} backed labeling.

Source:  Wall Street Journal

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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