Calif. could soon see labels for genetically modified food
California consumers may soon have something else to look out for at the grocery store: A label denoting food products made from genetically modified ingredients.
The Oakland, Calif., based California Right To Know campaign collected petition signatures from over 900,000 Californians and succeeded in getting a labeling measure on the fall ballot. If over 50 percent of voters support the referendum, food companies will be required to label genetically modified, or GMO, foods distributed in California.
The California campaign is the most recent salvo in the fight over GMO labels, according to BusinessWeek’s Jack Kaskey.
The California movement is mobilizing consumer unease over modified ingredients, which are found in about 80 percent of processed foods in the U.S. according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The campaign is the best chance for biotech labeling in the U.S. after the failure of similar bills in 19 states and the rejection of a petition to the Food and Drug Administration last month, [California Right To Know] said.
Many of agriculture’s largest companies and producers oppose labeling. Most, including biotech giant Monsanto, say these kinds of labels unfairly target their products.
The initiative is a “back door” way to hurt the $13.3 billion biotech crop industry, according to Richard Lobb, managing director for the Council for Biotechnology Information. The Washington-based council represents Monsanto and five other biotech-seed developers: DuPont Co., Dow Chemical Co., Syngenta AG, Bayer AG and BASF SE.
“They basically are trying to scare consumers through labeling,” Lobb said in a telephone interview. “The obvious objective is to push biotechnology out of the market altogether.”
Biotech labeling, which has been adopted in more than 40 countries, has never been endorsed by the FDA. The agency says crops engineered to tolerate herbicides or produce insecticide pose no greater health risks than conventional foods.
Some market-watchers don’t see GMO labeling as a gamebreaker. Instead, many say that labels give consumers a feeling of safety in choice and that only a relatively small group will avoid foods affixed with the label.
“People who are buying Oreos aren’t going to care if there is GMO soybean oil in there,” Chris Shaw, a market analyst, told Kaskey. “It’s going to be a marginal group of people that will care.”
With most conventional farmers using products made by the kind of large biotech companies that oppose the ballot measure, a change in California’s supermarkets would surely trickle out to Midwest farms.