Disruptive impact of California Prop. 37

On 6 November 2012, Californians will vote this historical Proposition that would require genetically modified foods in supermarkets to be labeled.

The Prop. is also known as “The Right to Know Genetically Engineered Foods Act”. I find really interesting the emphasis one the expression “Right to Know”. The new Regulation EU n. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, adopt the same semantic expressions, stressing that the labeling is strictly related to the consumer’s right to be inform.

The introduction of the Regulation says:

“[…]

(3) In order to achieve a high level of health protection for consumers and to guarantee their right to information, it should be ensured that consumers are appropriately informed as regards the food they consume […]

These rights are important, there is no doubt about it; but in this case the real problem regards not only information, but mostly science. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration for now does not require labeling or health and safety studies for these foods, even though recent independent studies show links to allergies and other health risks. Some other unintended problems are an increase in pesticide use, weed resistance, the development of super-weeds, harm to bees and animals, and contamination of non-GMO fields. Who really knows? We do not have real long term studies about them.

In the EU there is a “Precautionary principle” (art. 7, Reg. EC 178/02), that is maybe too often used to stop scientific progress on food production, but today what proof  FDA has to be sure that GMO are safe? Why more than 50 countries (EU, Australia, Japan, China, Russia…) have banned or strictly regulated GMO?

Anyway, if Proposition 37 is approved by voters, it will:

  • Require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.
  • Prohibit labeling or advertising such food as “natural.”
  • Exempt from this requirement foods that are “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.”

In the U.S., today, is estimated than 70% of processed food contains GMO. It is really a big business, and if the voters will approve the Prop., that could determine a changing in FDA positions and in the global market of GMO.

It must be stressed that the Californian market it’s really important for food companies.  So, if the supporters of Prop. 37 will win, the companies and the importers are going to take hard decisions:

– produce GMO free foods;

– produce GMO food with a lebel for the Californian market, and another one (without GMO declaration) for the rest of the U.S.;

In the meantime, the organic food lobbies are sneering. We will see…

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