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Election 2012: State Proposition Guide

Produced by KQED News and The California Report

Proposition 37

Labels Genetically Engineered Foods

David McNew/Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Proposition 37 requires labels on all raw foods that have been genetically engineered, and all processed foods that contain ingredients that were genetically engineered.
  • Genetically engineered foods could not be labeled "natural," a term that is not currently regulated.
  • Certain products are exempt, including: alcoholic beverages, prepared foods, medicine and animal feed.
  • Budget Impact: The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates Prop. 37 will cost up to $1 million for the state Department of Public Health inspections.

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As consumers we have been eating genetically engineered foods since 1994. Most genetic modifications are to seeds to help them grow in adverse climates, mature faster or become resistant to pests or herbicides.

In 2011, 88 percent of all corn and 94 percent of all soybeans produced in America were grown from genetically engineered (GE) seeds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other common GE crops are canola, papaya, sugar beets and zucchini.

What Proposition 37 Changes:

Currently, consumers do not know what foods have been genetically engineered. Under Prop 37, all foods that have been genetically engineered, or contain GE ingredients will be labeled.

What's Exempt

The measure exempts alcoholic beverages, medicines, food served at restaurants, pet food and animals that eat GE foods. So milk and beef from cows that eat GE corn would not be labeled, but soymilk from GE soybeans would be. Organic foods, since they already must not be genetically engineered would also not be labeled.

Who's Responsible

Retailers, such as grocery stores, would be required to label bulk foods and produce. For every product without a label, retailers would have to get a sworn statement from the provider of the product or receive independent certification.

Medical Opinions

More than 40 countries label GE foods, including all European Union nations, India and China. America does not. The Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization say genetically engineered foods do not present a safety concern. The American Medical Association agrees that's what current research shows, but says it would like to see more testing.

Arguments For and Against:

Supporters say...

there's a dearth of peer-reviewed studies on the effects of GE foods on human health, and therefore such foods should be labeled. Consumers have a right to know how their food is produced.

Major donors include the Organic Consumers Fund, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and Nature's Path Foods, who had raised $3.9 million dollars by late September.

Opponents say...

people seeking non-GE foods can eat organic products. Some scientific organizations say labeling is a scare tactic. They argue genetic engineering is a tool that can help fight hunger and ward off pests.

Companies also warn the measure could drive the price of food up, as they will pass the cost of complying to the consumer.

The list of opponents includes many large food corporations, such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, General Mills, Sara Lee, Kraft and Nestle. Monsanto, a leading producer of GE seeds, is the largest donor against the campaign. All told, opponents had raised about $32.5 million by late September.