A product labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Feliz district of Los Angeles Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. International food and chemical conglomerates are spending millions to defeat California’s Proposition 37, which would require labeling on all food made with altered genetic material. It also would prohibit labeling or advertising such food as “natural.” (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) Photo: Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press / SF
More than 350 top chefs this week came out in favor of Proposition 37, the initiative that calls for labeling most foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, saying there is an “enormous stake in ensuring transparency in our food system.”
“As chefs, we are on the frontlines of feeding America,” the petition said. “It is our duty to nourish our guests, both in body and soul. However, we can’t prepare the best food we know how when information about the ingredients we purchase is hidden from us with labels that are missing basic facts.”
Opponents – scientists, food companies and agribusiness – of the November ballot measure argue that genetically modified foods have been deemed safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration and that having to label them creates a stigma that simply doesn’t exist.
They also argue that it will cost households as much as $400 more in grocery bills annually because manufacturers will have to pass on the cost of having special labels just in California, or for having to use more expensive, non-genetically modified ingredients.
In addition, they argue that the measure would expose grocery retailers, food companies and farmers to frivolous lawsuits.
Even though the initiative would not require restaurants to divulge whether the food it serves has been genetically modified, the chefs said the legislation will at least allow them to knowingly source foods without genetically modified ingredients.
“Since restaurants are conveniently exempt from requirements in Prop. 37, these chefs wouldn’t be exposed to the shakedown lawsuits that will hit other small businesses like small grocery retailers and family farmers,” said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the “No on Prop. 37” campaign.
Proponents are concerned that the long-term health impacts of crops that have been genetically altered in the laboratory are unclear.
Prop. 37, backed by consumer activists and the organic industry, mandates manufacturers of most genetically modified foods – meat, dairy, eggs and alcohol are exempt – to alert California consumers with package labels.
For non-packaged food such as produce, supermarkets and grocery stores would have to post signs. Nearly 70 to 80 percent of processed foods are made with genetically engineered ingredients, including corn, sugar beets, soybeans and cotton oil.
If the proposition passes, California would be the first state in the nation to require labels on most genetically modified food products. At least 18 states, including California, have tried to pass similar laws through their legislatures and failed.
“Fifty countries around the world – representing more than 40 percent of the world’s population – already require GMO labeling,” according to the chefs’ collaborative petition. “We are adding our collective voices to this movement.”