Santa Monica still wants GE foods labeled

Although the initiative to label genetically engineered foods, Proposition 37, was defeated by California voters last November, the debate over whether to make these labels mandatory rages on as organizations continue to rally in the midst of a changing public opinion.

The cafeteria at Santa Monica College is always a busy environment where you can find students socializing with their friends, working on homework assignments, and, of course, eating. It is rife with people trying to satisfy hunger during every part of the day, and the labeling of food is something that is still an interest to some students.

Though Prop. 37 failed, there are some, including many SMC students, who still want the right to know what they are consuming.

"I'm interested in foods being labeled if they have been genetically modified," said SMC student Julie Rivas. "I like to know what's going on in my body so I have a choice of eating or not eating modified foods."

"Genetically Engineered foods means that the DNA of the plant has been altered so that the plant will have some new trait that will make it more resistant to disease, weather, handling, transportation damage, shelf life, etcetera," said SMC nutrition professor and registered dietitian Dona Richwine, in an email.

These "GE" foods are also known as Genetically Modified Organisms, or "GMOs."

A recent poll conducted by The New York Times revealed that about three-quarters of Americans had some worries over GE foods, and that 93 percent of the poll respondents stated that the ingredients in these types of foods should be made known.

Just Label It, an organization with a belief that people have the right to know what exactly is in the foods they consume, has campaigned vigorously to garner support and have their voices heard by the Food and Drug Administration.

"Without labeling of GE foods, we cannot make informed choices about our food," according to the Just Label It website.

Currently in his fourth term, Santa Monica Councilmember Kevin McKeown successfully proposed a ban in 2005 on all genetically modified products in the Santa Monica community gardens.

"The labeling I believe consumers must have to make informed decisions cannot be implemented at the local level. State or national action is needed," said McKeown in an email.

The organization Just Label It has drawn up a legal petition aimed toward the FDA, "on the premise that people have a right to know what is in their food, and to give consumers not only a voice, but a choice in how they can take action."

Other students at SMC have different views.

"I personally don't care, but at the same time I understand why people would want to know what's being done to their food," said Joshua Barrientos. "At my work, I sometimes get customers who ask what kinds of ingredients are in the foods they order. A lot of people care."

Despite the changes that these engineered foods go through, research has not yielded data showing that these foods are any less safe than foods grown by traditional methods.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed GMOs safe, whereas Europe, Australia and Japan do not allow them," said Richwine. "There is no concrete evidence that there is any nutritional difference in a GMO."

But the debate over this topic is far from over. While labeling is not mandatory at this time, there are options for students to reduce their consumption of modified foods if they feel unsure about their safety.

One option is choosing organic foods and buying fruits and vegetables from a local farmers market.

Last October, Santa Monica City Council joined other cities throughout California in support of Prop. 37. Since then the city has continued its move toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

“The City of Santa Monica is committed to supporting sustainable, local, and organic food through its own purchasing, and by helping to make sustainable food more accessible to its residents,” according to the Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment’s website.

It also provides a wide array of information and resources on sustainable foods such as growing produce, and workshops and classes on gardening and buying food on a budget.

"Most small farmers grow organically even if they are not certified," said Richwine. "The GMOs are more common in large agricultural farms."

The drawback of choosing organic foods, however, is that they are often more expensive.

While this labeling issue continues to see coverage, what it ultimately comes down to is good nutrition.

"Eating fewer animal foods and sweetened beverages and eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is the gold standard in good nutrition and will likely offset risks of GMOs eaten in moderation," said Richwine.

Fabian AvellanedaComment