By Sarah Shultz for Diets in Review
The debate on genetically engineered foods is becoming more vocal as organizers in California have successfully lobbied to put the issue to a vote. On November 6, Proposition 37 will be on the ballots in California, asking citizens whether or not to require every retail food manufactured with genetically modified organisms to be labeled as such. The law would go into effect July 2014, and would likely spur other states to come up with their own versions.
A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is produced through a complex process of biotechnology. Scientists artificially change a plant’s DNA in order to produce a bigger, hardier, or more pest-resistant organism. Agriculturists hail this as a way to feed the growing population and provide better yields for farmers. Proponents of Proposition 37, however, claim that genetically modified foods have not been adequately tested and pose serious health threats.
“[This] is part of a growing national food movement that demands transparency. People want to know where food comes from and how it is grown. More than 40 other countries require labeling–including all of Europe, China, Japan and beginning in January, India. The U.S. is one of the few industrialized countries that doesn’t,” said Lori Sinsley, Media Director for the California Right to Know Campaign.
The campaign is up against some big businesses with deep pockets for ad campaigns, including many agriculture interests, biotech companies like Monsanto, and food manufacturers such as Kellogg’s. In spite of that, its ranks have been growing, gathering nearly one million signatures on a petition for the ballot measure. And some have even switched sides on the issue, including former Monsanto employee, Kirk Azevedo.
Azevedo said in an interview with Food Nation Radio Network that he remembers being out in a cotton field with a PhD researcher and arguing with him, saying there’s no difference between Roundup ready cotton (bred for herbicide resistance) and traditionally-bred cotton. The researcher told him that there was a big difference between the two as other proteins were being introduced into the cotton as a byproduct of the genetic engineering process.
“That’s when I became concerned, because at the same time I had been studying protein diseases, like prion disease and mad cow disease, and I knew that proteins could be toxic. A whole new classification of diseases were just on the horizon,” Azevedo said.
He told the other researcher that the cotton should be destroyed because of the possibility for these protein diseases, and the researcher told him that it would not. Instead, the cotton would be used in cattle feed, as it was the standard practice for the company.
Azevedo did not demonize the company, but said, “In reality, we did not know the questions to ask as far as how is this different and how we should test these products.”
The issue is not simple, as it would make a huge impact on the food industry and probably make a big change in what products consumers buy. Polls have shown that around 90 percent of Americans would be in favor of labeling. Opponents of the initiative say this is an unfair scare tactic against FDA-approved foods. Time will tell whether or not foods will soon be sporting the new labels.