Big Agriculture and food companies are shelling out gobs of cash ahead of November's election to convince Californians to vote against a proposed law that would require businesses to label products that contain genetically modified organisms.

Proponents of Proposition 37 applaud the strict labeling requirements and say it will help consumers make better purchasing decisions. Opponents say that the labels are misleading and overly burdensome to food producers. Not only that, they claim, but compliance would be costly -- an expense that would likely drive up the price of goods in the grocery store.

The money is behind the opposition, literally.

Prop 37's opponents include Monsanto (MON), PepsiCo (PEP), Coca-Cola (KO), Hershey (HSY), and Kellogg (K). Together these companies and other large agricultural concerns have already spent millions to fight the proposed labeling law.

Labeling Purity

If Proposition 37 becomes law, raw GMO produce would be required to carry a label stating that it is "genetically engineered," and all processed foods containing GMOs would be required to be labeled as "partially produced with genetic engineering," or "may be partially produced with genetic engineering." It will also prohibit the use of labels such as "natural," "naturally made," "naturally grown," and "all natural" in foods with GMO ingredients.

In addition, Prop 37 would require farmers to maintain traceability records on foods that lack labels alerting consumers to the possible presence of GMOs. But suppose a GMO seed gets into a non-GMO field -- which does happen. Under Prop 37, it will be illegal to have even trace amounts of GMOs in packaged food that isn't labeled as containing them, even accidentally. Contrast this with the European Union, which has a 0.9% threshold for unintended GMOs.

Prop 37 would also make it easier for consumers to win lawsuits against food producers by eliminating the requirement to show specific damages resulting from the labeling violation.

Finally, organic foods are exempt from Prop 37's labeling requirement, despite the possibility that they can also contain unintended traces of GMO ingredients.

What's So Bad About That?

Opponents claim that Prop 37's labeling requirements would mislead consumers by falsely implying that GMOs are harmful to human health, despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization have concluded GMOs pose no risks to human health.

Some claim that Prop 37's zero-tolerance threshold for accidental GMOs, combined with the low burden of proof for consumers to win lawsuits for the mislabeling of food, will actually undermine the ability of consumers to avoid GMOs. This camp argues that, because it is nearly impossible to comply with such a high standard, food companies will simply label everything as containing GMOs in order to lower litigation risk. They also claim that this law privileges organic foods, which are exempt from the labeling requirement despite the fact that they can also contain trace amounts of accidental GMOs.

But it's not just about labels; it's about setting a precedent.

Opponents aren't just worried that the law will drive California consumers away from their products. They also fear that the rest of the country will follow California's lead and give the anti-GMO movement traction in other states.

Do you think Prop 37's requirements are good for consumers? Do you want the movement to spread to your home state? Chime in below!



Motley Fool contributor M. Joy Hayes, Ph.D., is the principal at ethics consulting firm Courageous Ethics. She doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Follow @JoyofEthics on Twitter. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, as well as creating a modified stock repair against synthetic long position in Monsanto.


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Kenneth Walton

I am a biomedical scientist trained in molecular biology and biochemistry. The big ag industry and some scientists continue to sweep under the rug the increasing number of studies showing serious dangers of GMO foods. Human and animal health, not to mention genetic diversity, are in serious danger. Labeling is the only way to trace the possible effects these foods are having on consumers and should be instituted for the whole country.

September 06 2012 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
J Glenn Lowe

GMO’s are now scientifically proven to cause your own gut bacteria to create pesticides within your own body. How safe do you feel about GMO's now? Try going Non-GMO and see how you feel in just a few days… then you will know how safe they are…NOT. There is nothing natural about splicing animal genes with plant genes. Nature has never done that to you. Anyone that tells you GMO’s are safe is simply uninformed, or they are disinformation agents for Big Ag.

No matter what happens with Prop 37 you need to Fact Check what I just stated. Get yourself a Non-GMO Shopping Guide and stop poisoning yourself and your children. The only way to stop Big Ag from poisoning you is to boycott them. A boycott will do more than any silly law could ever do. Big Ag will continue to poison us until we stop letting them. When are you going to make that choice? Are you going to wait until blood is running down your leg? That is the future that Big Ag has in store for you and your family. Get informed. Live long and prosper.

September 06 2012 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
J Glenn Lowe

GMO’s are now scientifically proven to cause your own gut bacteria to create pesticides within your own body. How safe do you feel about GMO's now? Try going Non-GMO and see how you feel in just a few days… then you will know how safe they are…NOT. There is nothing natural about splicing animal genes with plant genes. Nature has never done that to you. Anyone that tells you GMO’s are safe is simply uninformed, or they are disinformation agents for Big Ag.

No matter what happens with Prop 37 you need to Fact Check what I just stated. Get yourself a Non-GMO Shopping Guide and stop poisoning yourself and your children. The only way to stop Big Ag from poisoning you is to boycott them. A boycott will do more than any silly law could ever do. Big Ag will continue to poison us until we stop letting them. When are you going to make that choice? Are you going to wait until blood is running down your leg? That is the future that Big Ag has in store for you and your family. Get informed. Live long and prosper.

September 06 2012 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

If their stuff is better than the natural products then they should have no problem with allowing market forces to decide. Only if they know it is crap would they want it kept secret. Dirty deeds done in the dark, that's the same old story. Shine a light on a cockroach and it scuttles away, always.

September 06 2012 at 12:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
energyform

Good sources of info. below. It has been estimated that other than radiation exposure, GMO has the greatest potential to end human existence on this planet. The results of GMO foods will take generations to become evident according to non-biased expert sources.
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/05/29/genetically-modified-crops-insects-emerged.aspx
http://www.consciousnessbeyondchemtrails.com/speakers/jeffrey-m-smith/

September 06 2012 at 12:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robin

You're kidding... right Mr. Boyah? I've had a disease known as Morgellons for 9 yrs now... and it has most definitely been linked to GMO's and chemtrails. Our bodies are being poisoned and our lives have been turned into nightmares. Fortunately for me... I fought a long hard fight and have learned how to stay away from all these toxins. But there are sooooooo many people out there who are new to this mess who have no where to turn during their initial nightmare years of being poisoned by GMO's and the like. Anyhoo, if you wanna study plant biology... look into Morgellons and agrobacterium. You may be very surprised at what you do learn.

August 31 2012 at 10:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mr. Rockafeller

i wonder who is more into the Gmo business.....if libs or republicans.....both stand to gain from GMO. The libs like GMO b/c it will eventually shorten lives therefore depopulate the world ....something libs like. The republicans favor business even crocked ones [ like monsanto] something republicans like. Where can the average citizen like you and me turn to ? I dont know..............

August 30 2012 at 8:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mr. Rockafeller's comment
mrboyah2300

There is not one thing wrong with GM foods. I am studying plant biology myself and can say that you have a better chance of dying from organic foods which are maintained less (not saying those are dangerous either). My point being that GM foods can't harm you unless the company specifically want to harm you (which makes a horrible marketing strategy). Also, if you are hellbent on never eating GM foods, you cannot eat the following foods due to their unnatural existence: corn, bananas, and potatoes just to name a few.

August 30 2012 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rene

Why don't they use the millions of dollars on labeling instead of lobbying. If its no harm to humans then just put it on the label.

August 30 2012 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
willowreed

I can see that the tin-foil (which is actually aluminum) hat crowd is out in full force!

August 30 2012 at 7:49 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
willowreed

The thing of it is, foods are naturally 'genetically engineered' so why is this even a problem? It is called evolution. I don't expect you to understand how that works but it is a natural process.

August 30 2012 at 7:49 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to willowreed's comment
Steve

Your question is very simplistic and shows no understanding of GMOs or of people's aversion to them. In nature it is highly unlikely, that a pig will mate with a tomato for instance or that a slug or beetle will produce offspring after some inspired frottage with a corn flower.

September 06 2012 at 12:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply