California’s Proposition 37 will require genetically-modified foods to carry a label indicating that they are made with genetically-modified ingredients. This has the potential to impact all Americans because it will be less expensive for food manufactures to label all foods, rather than just those bound for California. In addition, Big Food will be more likely to seek out non-genetically-modified ingredients because the public is weary of GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). Says Michael Pollan,
Expect the industry to first try to stomp out the political brush fire by taking the new California law to court on the grounds that a state cannot pre-empt a federal regulation. One problem with that argument is that, thanks to the bio-tech industry’s own lobbying prowess, there is no federal regulation on labeling, only an informal ruling, and therefore nothing to pre-empt…To avoid having to slap the dread letters on their products, many food companies will presumably reformulate their products with non-G.M. ingredients, creating a new market for farmers and for companies selling non-G.M. seed. The solidarity of Monsanto and companies like Coca-Cola — which reaps no benefit from using G.M. corn in its corn syrup — might then quickly crumble. Rather than deal with different labeling laws in different states, food makers would probably prefer to negotiate a single national label on G.M. foods. Consumer groups like the Just Label It campaign, which has collected 1.2 million signatures on a petition to force the F.D.A. to label G.M. foods, thus far to no avail, would suddenly find themselves with a seat at the table and a strong political hand.
Pollan argues that the vote on Proposition 37 is an opportunity for the “Food Movement” to become an actual political movement – and for government and Big Food to take notice of it:
One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a “food movement” in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system. People like me throw the term around loosely, partly because we sense the gathering of such a force, and partly (to be honest) to help wish it into being by sheer dint of repetition. Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole. But a market and a sentiment are not quite the same thing as a political movement — something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.
I don’t live in California, obviously, so I can’t vote on Proposition 37 in November, but I can learn more about GMOs and spread the word. I signed the Just Label It! petition to tell the FDA to mandate labeling of GMOs. I can also vote with my dollars and support local farmers who don’t use GMOs, as well as support companies that voluntarily label their foods (check out the Non-GMO Project). Pollan argues convincingly that Proposition 37 is an important and necessary step in making our voices heard when it comes to food issues:
The fight over labeling G.M. food is not foremost about food safety or environmental harm, legitimate though these questions are. The fight is about the power of Big Food. Monsanto has become the symbol of everything people dislike about industrial agriculture: corporate control of the regulatory process; lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers); an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures; and the monopolization of seeds, which is to say, of the genetic resources on which all of humanity depends.