Prop. 37 would require GMO labeling, issues remain

If the GMO labeling initiative Prop 37 passes in the November election, California would be the first state in the nation to require labeling on genetically engineered crops or processed foods.

According to the official voter information guide for California’s general election, supporters of the proposition say that the public has a "right to know" if their food contains "DNA that was artificially altered in a laboratory using genes from viruses, bacteria, or other plants and animals."

Opponents claim that regulations mandating labeling would be "expensive" and "deceptive."

While approval of Prop 37 would be a significant milestone for supporters, it would only be the beginning of a long battle toward thwarting the issue of corporate control of seeds and the food system, according to David King, founding chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles.

In the past 50 years, through the emergence of corporate agricultural business, seed saving and sharing among farmers has changed dramatically. What was once considered to be the basis of necessity for future planting and maintenance of rich biodiversity has now come under increasing threat.

In an article entitled "The Control of Nature," Vanity Fair reports that in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court "extended patent law to cover ‘a live human-made microorganism.’"

This ruling paved the way for genetically engineered seeds to be patented and privately owned. After the ruling, chemical company Monsanto began producing genetically engineered food crops in the U.S.

"At some point Monsanto made a conscious decision to control the seed market," says King. "Until the 1970s [and] ‘80s, Monsanto was primarily a chemical company. After that time they became a chemical company that buys seed."

Since then, over 140 U.S. farmers have been prosecuted by Monsanto for infringement of intellectual property rights over seeds, according to a press release from the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association.

Under these relatively new patent laws, if Monsanto seed mixes with a farmer’s own seeds through pollination or wind, it automatically becomes the ownership of that corporation.

The OSGTA has fought back, saying that farmers "face legal intimidation and the loss of economic livelihood, all because America’s legal system has failed to adequately protect them from the real threat of genetic trespass that is inherent as a result of Monsanto’s patented GMO seeds and the natural biological functions of cross pollination from wind, insects or animals."

Genetically modified crops are usually given traits for either resistance to disease or insects, or tolerance to herbicides, according to a report from New York University.

"In the field, GM has to be treated as a pesticide, because pesticide is built into it, so you have to wash your hands after planting the seed," said King. "The plant itself is the pesticide so you wouldn’t want it on yourself, but at some point it’s harvested and, suddenly, it’s food."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that this year, 93 percent of all soybean crops have been genetically modified in some way, as well as 88 percent of all corn crops. The Organic Consumer’s Association reports that 75 to 85 percent of processed foods in the grocery store contain GMOs.

At the Organic Learning Garden at SMC, garden coordinator Dana Morgan explains that organic seeds are not genetically modified.

"I emphasize the importance of learning to grow from seed in the Organic Learning Garden," says Morgan. "We need to understand our essential connection to the seeds we eat and grow."

According to research group MapLight, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to "revealing money’s influence on politics," as of Oct. 3, Prop 37 advocates have spent $4.1 million on the "Yes on 37" campaign, while opponents have spent over eight times as much, contributing $34.5 million to the "No on 37" effort.

The highest contributor to "No on 37" is Monsanto—who works closely with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on GMO projects in Africa—weighing in at over $7 million, followed by chemical giant DuPont at almost $5 million.

Also on the list at over $1 million each are PepsiCo, Nestle and Coca-Cola, all users of high fructose corn syrup.

The main donors for "Yes on 37" include Health Resources at $1,100,000 and Nature’s Path Foods at $610,709. The Organic Consumer Organizations’ Committee for the Right to Know about GMOs and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps have each contributed over $300,000.