Proposition 37 interviews – call for questions!

Readers, I have some great news! I have just heard back from the two opposing campaigns for and against proposition 37, and they have agreed to do phone interviews for the Biofortified Blog. With a little more than a week to go until the election, however, this means that we will be doing these interviews right away. I will be conducting these interviews about the proposition on Monday, tomorrow, but I would like to give you a chance to submit a question for either side and I will consider adding them to my list.
Readers of this blog should already be pretty familiar with the basic idea of the proposition, which is an effort to require labels for genetically engineered food of certain types, and to ban the use of “natural” terms on such foods. Arguments for the proposition include the “Right to Know” if your food has been genetically engineered and the claim that it will cost consumers nothing. Arguments against include the claim that it could cost consumers “up to $400 per year” and that it exempts certain classes of food arbitrarily. The proponents of the measure have received millions of dollars in funding from organic and “natural” food companies, groups, and Mercola, while the opposition has received tens of millions of dollars in funding from biotechnology companies and food manufacturers.
While support for the measure was initially ahead of the opposition by 2 to 1, in the last month it has come down to a statistical dead heat with 44% for, and 42% against.
We’ve heard lots of debate about this proposition this year, but our blog readers often think about these issues in ways that most people do not. I will be interviewing Stacy Malkan from the Yes on 37 campaign, and Kathy Fairbanks from the No on 37 campaign. I’ll have a couple good questions for either side, but here is your chance to ask one of those great questions that I know you have on your mind! The interviews will be conducted separately during the day on Monday, and will be posted by Tuesday morning.
Update Monday 10-29 10:00 pm: The interview with Stacy Malkan has been conducted, and I had to reschedule the interview with Kathy Fairbanks for Tuesday morning. Shortly after, both will be posted to the web as one show for everyone to enjoy. Check back later!
Update Tuesday 10-30 midnight: Both interviews have been conducted, and the show has been edited together with an introduction and conclusion. The files are being generated right now as both a full-length show as well as broken apart into chunks. They will be available online first thing Wednesday morning.
Update Wednesday: The interviews are up!

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Written by Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is a Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Riverside and works on Citrus genetics.

14 comments

  1. Questions
    1) Both groups: Who are the financial sponsors of the campaign?
    2) Anti-GMO group: Do you intend to require GMO labeling on sugar, canola oil, and foods processed using these?

  2. How do they envision CA being able to pay for monitoring and enforcement of this law?
    How will small producers, like those selling homemade goods at farmers markets, be able to keep all the paperwork necessary to be in compliance.
    The Homemade Food Act and the Homegrown Food Act were designed to reduce problems for small producers. Doesn’t this undo all that?

  3. I see a lot of people who want this to pass because they hate monocultures, herbicides, and patents.
    For Stacy: If people reject the foods labeled with “May contain…” will they be free from those 3 things?

  4. The proposed law as written would definitely require labeling ingredients such as purified oils that are otherwise identical regardless of GM origin. So I think perhaps a better way to word question #2 is: was it the original intent to include labeling those ingredients? And if so, why?

  5. I realize the “No” campaign doesn’t directly represent large agribusiness and large food processers, but perhaps they can speak to some of their funders’ intetions, so here goes (for the No on 37 representative): what kind of labeling do you think large food makers and agribusiness support? Given that much of the anti-GMO concerns are really around a host of agricultural impacts, would they support an attempt to provide transparency for the real environmental impacts of food production such as pesticide use, carbon emissions, water use, runoff, etc?
    For the CA Right to Know group: I’ve seen a fair bit of stuff on your website about patents. Why are GMO related patents uniquely concerning to customers while other patents, like for the pluot, are not?

  6. Interesting points, Pdiff. I looked up the text of the proposition and it does not exempt farmers market stands, or small producers from any of the requirements. Except for cases of “immediate consumption” it would apply to them.
    I’m not sure what you mean about the Homegrown Food Act – is there a particular thing that this would undo, or would it undo some part if it in spirit or intent?

  7. I may be a little late to add to this.
    My question would be (for both sides), if huge amounts of evidence were given to show that the position you take was not true, would you change your position? If so, what kind of evidence would you require? (and this could be a nuanced sort of thing – meaning that *individual* GMO’s are shown repeatedly to be either bad for you, or of no more appreciable harm than the current non-GMO alternative).

  8. A question I’d like to ask the No side: have you considered taking this opportunity to make some educational efforts? The Pro-labeling side says people should have transparency and information about their food, and I think this would be a great opportunity to explain all the aspects about crop science that most people don’t know, rather than just focusing on issues like inconsistencies in the products that need labeled and the costly red tape. For example, most people don’t know that their apples are bud sports, that their pears are grafted, that vegetables may be produced by crossing lines produced by chemically doubling the chromosomes, ect. I’ll bet a lot of people would have their minds blown to learn that the cherries and grapes they eat are different species than the things in their cherry pies or grape juice. I think this would be a great chance to teach people that genetic engineering is far from the only thing out there, and to also teach about what is and isn’t genetically engineered and how and why it is genetically engineered. I get that it may be easier to simply make the financial case, but I think this is a missed opportunity.
    To the Yes side, same basic question: why ignore all of the above if you support education (as opposed to simply being anti-GE)? Why isn’t your side attempting to make such education efforts, and is instead ignoring all those things (among others that I’m sure have been brought to your attention at some point), which I think deprives consumers of critical context and gives only the most baseline information (and sometimes not even that) about genetic engineering? Also, bananas are known to have a bit more radiation in them due to potassium. Would you consider requiring a radioactive label placed on all bananas informative and not a fear inducing warning label? Why or why not, and how would that be different than your label, which I have often heard it said is ‘not a warning label’?

  9. I would ask Kathy Fairbanks about the often-used claim about the initiative costing consumers $300 to $400 more per year. That was based on an “analysis” by Northbridge Environmental Consultants, which published a similar analysis for the Oregon GM food labeling initiative in 2002. I spoke with William Jaeger, an ag economist at Oregon State University, who said Northbridge’s cost estimates didn’t make logical sense. Northbridge assumed that if a non-GMO ingredient alternative cost 10% more than a GM-derived ingredient then that would automatically translate to a 10% increase in the cost of the food containing that ingredient. Jaeger said that wouldn’t be the case because some ingredients make up a very small percentage of a food product.

  10. My take on Pdiff comments….California has a single-subject rule for initiatives which means the initiative can only impact one subject/law. This rule was passed to try and keep initiatives as simple as possible and not confuse voters.
    Alcohol is exempted from Prop37 because of the single use law; it’s regulated under separate law from food. The Homemade Food Act is a distinct law, and so like alcohol, food regulated under this act would be exempt as a different law governs such food. Or so I believe…the courts would decide.
    There is no Homegrown Food Act, although there are several groups in CA proposing such a law.
    I think an interesting case could be made that Prop37 breaks the single-use rule (and so would be unconstitutional) in that it actually addresses both GMO-labeling and the use of the “natural” label on products containing GMO ingredients – two separate issues. I’m sure neither of your folks have the legal background to respond to this level of questioning, given that neither are trained in state law.

  11. Hi Rita and thanks for the clarification. I did know about the homegrown act being just a proposal, but brought it up as a similar idea anyway. I should have mentioned that. I was not aware of the one subject nature of the initiatives. I was thinking more practically that the HM Act and potentially the HG Act are meant to make things easier for the small retailer or producer and Prop 37 seems to add yet another layer for them to deal with. For example the proposed HG Act (See here) says an objective is to: Increase access to fresh, locally sourced produce for all Californians regardless of location and other socioeconomic limitations.
    My understanding is that Prop 37 will require one to a) label as Organic, b) Label as GMO or maybe GMO, or c) go without. Options a and c would require verification or a paper trail and option b has been made unpalatable with the anti-GMO stigma. None of these seem like economic incentives to go out and sell something. Hence, in my simplistic interpretation, they seem to clash in that sense. This level of retail would be hindered as fewer people would be willing or able to jump through the additional hoops. (Hopefully that answers Karl’s question too). If you interpretation is correct, then there could be any number of things exempt from prop 37 because they were covered somewhere else.
    Given the “one subject” rule, are alcohol and tobacco exempted from something like the cancer law, prop 65, because of other laws regulating/labeling them?

  12. Hi pdiff,
    You ask: Given the “one subject” rule, are alcohol and tobacco exempted from something like the cancer law, prop 65, because of other laws regulating/labeling them?
    I’ve not given extensive study to Prop65, but I think it was an environmental toxin law, not a cancer law…and that those could be construed as toxins (although I do recall a judge throwing out a prop65 suite regarding second hand smoke).
    I’m not convinced that the biggest problem with Prop37 is the burden to retailers. I have a friend who owns several high end boutique grocery stores and his family were large mainstream grocers until they sold to larger company. He says that competition for shelf space is so high that the brands will do everything they can to make it easy for grocers to comply. Because once they get bumped over a concern for non-compliance that brand has to fight to get back into competitive shelf placement (not all shelf placement is of equal value). So his perspective is that the brands and their distributors will bear the burden, not the retailers. Just how much burden is debatable. Comparing it to the EU (where it seems there was little cost and hassle in getting things labeled) is not a fair comparison as there were so fewer products using GMO ingredients at the time the law passed. The biggest cost concern if it passes will be in brands switching to identity preserved nongmo ingredients….the market doesn’t have enough of those ingredients, and there would be a significant rise in costs, for say, IP nongmo soy. I talked to a friend at ADM (they sell IP nongmo soy) and she said 20% increase with shortages if it happens. There are production companies out talking to producers right now trying to get more conventional IP soy in the ground next spring – but there’s not enough seed to supply them. The supply chain/sourcing circus will be crazy if this passes. And it’s not just the organic suppliers who are seeing dollar signs.

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