GMO Food Fight Heats Up In California

Supporters of a bill in California that would require marketers of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs) to state so on their labels delivered a petition yesterday with nearly a million signatures asking that a referendum on the issue be included on the ballot this November. The odds are good that it will be: There are nearly twice as many signatures as are required to force a vote.

"The right to know is a fundamental right and a bedrock American value," says Stacy Malkan, media director of the campaign in a press release. "This November, the voters of California will surely vindicate our right to know what's in the food we eat and feed our children."

The ballot initiative, and its history from its proponents’ POV, can be viewed here. There is also a Facebook page. 

The opposition includes Monsanto, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade organization whose 300 members include Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods and Kellogg, points out Ian Berry in the Wall Street Journal.



They say there are no health risks to GMOs –- and the Food and Drug Administration controversially agrees -- and that labels would mislead consumers. "Food manufacturers who believe their customers want such information can label their products if they choose to do so," says Monsanto spokeswoman Sara Miller.

“While 30 countries, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, have significant restrictions and labeling requirements, or outright bans on the production of GMOs, there are presently no U.S. laws requiring GMO labeling,” actvist and author Annie Spiegelman (Talking Dirt: The Dirt Diva's Down to Earth Guide to Organic Gardening) blogged on Huffington Post in February.

Spiegelman interviews the catalyst behind the ballot initiative, “Grandma” Pamm Larry -– “farmer, midwife, businesswoman and a gutsy grandmother of three [who] was so distraught about our modern day food system that she quit her day job and spent her time educating herself on GMOs .…”

The piece discloses the other major players who have rallied behind the movement and includes a crib sheet on answering the “talking points of the opposition” from “we are feeding the world” to “food costs will go up.” 

Gary Hirshberg, the chairman and founder of Stonyfield Farm, which makes organic yogurt, also has a post on HuffPost that references a widely cited poll showing that “nine out of 10 voters (91%) across all demographics -- including political parties, gender, age and socio-economic status -- support labeling genetically engineered foods and the right to know…. At a time when partisan rancor dominates the public conversation, there are few topics that can muster such overwhelming support.”

But the 87 comments to a short item posted about the bill yesterday afternoon in the Sacramento Bee’s “Capitol Alert” blog by Torey Van Oot gives an indication of how hotheaded the debate will get among, presumably, jes’ plain citizens.

“Food is fundamental,” writes Jerry75 in support of the bill. “It needs to be labeled when bio-tech companies have contaminated it with viruses, bacteria and toxins that are not naturally occurring.”

But the nannystate-averse are wagging their fingers in force, too.

“Warning:  This area contains many posts of clueless city people who think selective plant breeding and plant gene manipulation causes toxic food. Take your meds and calm down folks,” says windtersdude. 

“How long before we can't even tell what we are buying for all the labels warning us about whatever the panicked sheep are focused at the time?” writes NoCommieCrats.

In yet another HuffPost blog, Dr. Joseph Mercola, attempted to rally the anti-GMO troops Sunday with a post that begins: “I'm pleased to announce that the Money Bomb Against Monsanto has been officially launched!” He depicts the campaign as a “proverbial David vs. Goliath” battle with the forces of corporate agribusiness raising millions of dollars to spread their propaganda in an effort to defeat the California ballot initiative, just like they did a decade ago in Oregon.”

Dan Morian, a senior editor of the Sacramento Bee, wrote a column in February defending genetically modified food and attacking “rich people with a cause [who] cannot seem to resist inflicting their world views on California politics.” His chief culprit in point: Dr. Joseph Mercola -- “an osteopath who lives in suburban Chicago and runs a website,, which promotes his alternative, though generally unproven, health-related products and ideas.”

This is clearly one food fight that’s going to get a lot dirtier in the months ahead.

Next story loading loading..