Latest Salvo in War on GM Foods

June 15, 2012

By Joseph Perkins

After repeatedly failing over the years to get a law passed by the California Legislature requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods, the state’s food Luddites succeeded this week in qualifying a food labeling initiative for the November ballot.

The measure, fronted by a group calling itself California Right to Know, proposes that all GM foods be labeled either “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May Be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

It would apply to roughly 70 percent of food currently found on supermarket shelves — processed foods, mainly, which contain harmless ingredients derived from genetically engineered corn and soybeans.

“People have the right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed to our children,” said Stacy Malkan, spokeswoman for California Right to Know.

Many, if not most, Californian consumers probably consider that a reasonable proposition.  After all, food labeling already is commonplace.

But the labeling California Right to Know proposes is far from benign. It is not meant simply to inform consumers, as Malkin deceptively suggested, but to scare them away from GM foods.

That’s why much of the financial backing and support for the GM labeling proposition has come from out-of-state interests which have declared war on biotechnology, which aim to rid not only the Golden State, but the entire United States, of any food other than “natural” or “organic.”

“If we pass this initiative,” Ronnie Cummins, director of the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, wrote in a fund-raising appeal for support of the California ballot measure, “we will be well on our way to getting GM-tainted foods out of our nation’s food supply for good.”

Indeed, he continued, while food activists have gotten no traction in their efforts to get a federal law mandating labels on GM foods, a win in California“will have the same impact as a national labeling law.”

The farming community, food producers and biotech industry agree. If California Right to Know’s ballot initiative is approved by the voters, and de facto warning labels are required on all GM foods, it will send a tacit message to the state’s consumers that such foods are unsafe.

But that myth, promulgated by California Right to Know, the Organic Consumers Association and other groups that seek to ban genetically improved foods, has been contradicted by the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Medical Association.

Because the overwhelming body of scientific research has found foods containing genetically engineered ingredients perfectly safe and no different, materially, from putative “natural” foods, the federal Food and Drug Administration has not required GM foods to be labeled.

The agency is rightly concerned that warning labels proposed by California Right to Know, which would be the equivalent to placing a skull and crossbones on GM food products, would serve only to confuse and needlessly frighten the consuming public.

That’s precisely what the Luddites behind the so-called California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act want. By fomenting public fear of “unnatural” or “non-organic” foods, they can accomplish their insidious goal of getting GM foods out of the food supply.

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