It’s not a national event, but it might as well be. California’s Nov. 6 vote on Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of genetically modified organisms in food, has turned into a broader referendum on our food supply.
For a lot of us, it’s a matter of trust, and when we don’t trust a food, or the government’s regulation of it, we vote with our hoe — or with our dollar. We quiz a local farmer on her practices, or we look for organically certified veggies. We read labels. Listing ingredients is one of the things that the FDA does well, so if you don’t want sugar, soy or unpronounceable additives, you can avoid them. But GMOs have been given a pass.
Where there’s an important election or debate there are polls, and the Prop. 37 polls give the non-trusting public a whopping majority. Why is this measure so popular? Maybe it’s the creepiness of alien genes being inserted into our food. Who wants to eat a tomato whose grandmother was a halibut? The fact that inserted genes enable some corn seeds to carry their own pesticides, and others to resist the herbicide sprayed on them, does not fuel the appetite.
The well-documented news that those genes don’t, in the end, increase yields, that bugs and weeds become resistant to them, and that they contaminate non-GMO crops, does not inspire confidence in the Agriculture Department’s regulation of them.
Not everyone believes the bromides the GMO team dishes out. “It’s no different from traditional breeding.” It is. “Organic non-GMO food can’t feed the growing Third World population.” It can. Maybe you learned that lesson from your own productive garden. And maybe you don’t believe the scare stories, either. Food costs will not skyrocket because of labeling. Big companies will take a hit, but things will settle once they give the public what it wants to eat.
Meanwhile, the two sides are busy flinging millions at the issue, in classic election-year style. Corporate agribusiness, terrified by what it has to lose, outspends the pro-labeling side by more than 8 to 1.
We’re a little too far east to see lawn signs for this campaign, but it’s being waged, at least, in a food co-op I sometimes visit. A poster hanging there, put out by the Cornucopia Institute, displays the logos of companies that are fighting Prop. 37 and what they have spent so far. Some are organic brands, created by otherwise conventional-ag companies, that can be found on the co-op’s own shelves. On the other side of the poster are logos of organic companies that finance the countercampaign. So you can buy Organic Valley’s milk, Eden’s spaghetti, Annie’s macaroni, Frontier’s vanilla and a Thanksgiving Tofurky to help Prop. 37 win, or you can buy Horizon milk, Kashi cereal, Gardenburgers, Knudsen juice and Cascadian Farms frozen peas to help it lose. It’s information. And with it you can make a choice.
Damrosch is a freelance writer and author of “The Garden Primer.”